East Timor: Army commander threatens to arrest protesters

The command of the Timorese armed forces today deployed a small contingent of military personnel to the street of the headquarters of a movement that this week wants to demonstrate against the president for alleged violations of the Constitution.

The armed forces were deployed at three points on rua Água da Fonte, near the government palace, where the headquarters of the Labour Party (PT), led by Angela Freitas, is located.

Freitas is one of the spokespeople for a newly created political movement that has been threatened with arrest by the commander of the Defence Forces of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL), Major General Lere Anan Timur, for encouraging the protest.

In a statement to Lusa, Freitas said she would not go to the party headquarters for the time being, as he is in talks with the national police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office for what she considered to be “an intimidating action” by the military commander.

“We heard the statements of commander Lere. These threats to a civilian are a crime. We are in a democratic country and I have every right to express my dissatisfaction with what I consider to be violations of the Constitution,” she told Lusa.

“I’m not afraid, but I have to wait to talk to the other authorities before I go back to headquarters,” she added.

Angela Freitas considered that the deployment of military personnel around her party’s headquarters is “dictatorship behaviour with military forces, which is very dangerous in a democratic country.

The head of the F-FDTL threatened today to capture the leaders of the newly created movement, which intends to demonstrate this week against the president.

In statements to journalists, hours before the military deployment near the party headquarters, Lere Anan Timur reacted to the protest being planned by a new Timorese group that is calling for the president’s resignation, considering that the head of state has not respected the Constitution and has been acting in defence of the interests of his own political force.

The group “National Resistance in Defense of Justice and Constitution of Timor-Leste”, led by Ângela Freitas and Antonio Aitan-Matak, has a petition circulating to that effect and has planned a “peaceful march”, which has been authorised by the police, next Friday.

“The president has violated the constitution and must resign,” Freitas told Lusa.

The group accuses Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo of acting more in defence of his party, the Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor-Leste (Fretilin), than in defence of the entire population, after not swearing in several members of the largest party of the winning coalition of the 2018 elections, the National Congress of Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), of Xanana Gusmão.

“As a 24-year veteran of the resistance and commander of the F-FDTL, I do not allow any group or organisation to take a coup action against resistance leaders,” said Lere Anan Timur, referring to some of the historical names such as Xanana Gusmão, Taur Matan Ruak (current Prime Minister) or Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo (President).

Lere Anan Timur said that the “Government should not receive a person” like Angela Freitas, recalling the problems the country experienced in 2006.

“I won’t let anyone oust my brothers who commanded the guerrilla,” he said.

“If in this peaceful action of the group commits any crime, I myself will take the forces to arrest all the maximum leadership that organised this action. I will have Angela and Aitahan Matak arrested. If they want to overthrow the ‘katuas’ [elders] through a demonstration, I’ll order the forces to act and I’ll take responsibility for responding in court and for human rights,” he threatened.

Anan Timur added that the president was elected by vote and that any dismissal must follow the parameters defined by law.

The military leader’s comments prompted critical comments on social networks, with several people defending the right to demonstrate and insisting that the entity responsible for controlling this type of action is the police, not the armed forces.