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Fernando "Lasama" de Araújo

Regions : Asia : East Timor

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Interviewed August 201

Fernando de Araújo (1963 – 2015), also known as “Lasama,” was a politician from East Timor.

He was born in 1963 in a mountainous district of what was then Portuguese Timor. In 1975, East Timor was granted independence by Portugal, but Indonesia invaded the country and claimed it as an Indonesian province until 2002. During the 1975 Indonesian invasion, Araújo saw the Indonesian Army kill 18 members of his family.

As a university student, he became an activist for Timorese independence and was selected as the first secretary general of the East Timor Students’ National Resistance (RENETIL). As a result of his student activism, he was arrested in 1991 and taken to Jakarta where he was tried and sentenced to six years and four months of imprisonment.

After his release, Araújo remained in Jakarta and continued to work for self-determination and democracy in East Timor, working closely with Indonesian human rights defenders and democracy advocates. He returned to Timor and in 2001 and founded and led the Democratic Party.

He was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency in the April 2007 elections. In the June 2007 legislative elections, he was elected to parliament.

Araújo was elected President of the National Parliament in 2007 and served in that role until 2012. In 2008, he briefly served as acting president after an attempt on the life of President José Ramos-Horta. From 2012 to 2015, he served as Deputy Prime Minister, and was named Minister for Social Affairs and Education in April 2015.

He died from a stroke on June 2, 2015.


Many of our colleagues were apprehended, all were apprehended; approximately, 72 students were apprehended while they were demonstrating in front of the Embassies of Australia and Germany. They were apprehended and taken to the police stations and were imprisoned. At that time, they were asked, who organized them, who was the leader behind those actions, and many of our colleagues could not cope because there were a lot of pressures from the military, from the investigators, and so they revealed “Fernando de Araújo, whose code name is “La Sama”, he was the who organized everything from behind.”

I actually did not participate in the demonstrations, I was in Bali. They were apprehended on 19 November 1991 in Jakarta, and then on 24 November, very early in the morning, it was a Sunday, the military came to get me in my residence in Bali. They surrounded the house where I was staying, with guns, there were many armed troops, from the intelligence, police, Indonesian military, all of them together came to apprehend me in my residence. I then suffered a very intense investigation. They asked everything. They wanted me to confess everything. I probably declared some things but I did not reveal everything as it was part of the principle which we held firm; ie. not to reveal our works to our enemy.

I slept by myself in a very big prison cell. After my friends were released, I remained alone there. I then became sick, almost died, I could not even get up. And in those times, I started to write down notes, little by little, about my thoughts, and what the police and military officers were doing daily. I began to take notes, using the papers which they used to wrap my food, the “nasi bungkus” to write. But I felt that I was going to die, since I was so sick and could not get up, so I thought if I died, they would take all my notes, and would manage to discover more things about our resistance struggle, so I crawled to the bathroom, mashed all my notes with water, and then flush it all down the toilet.

And then I was given a little bit of treatment, I was taken to the police hospital called Keramat Jati. There, they treated me, but it was not very good treatment. I slept on top of blood, it was a place where police took wounded criminals who were shot. I was taken there and it was very smelly. I went to sleep there so that it can be said that I had been treated. After two days, I asked to be taken back to my prison cell, because that hospital was worse and smellier than my prison cell.

Then they took me to Salemba for a few months, from March to September, in a prison in Jakarta called Salemba, and then my trial during the times I stayed in Salemba prison. And after this, once they had made a decision in the District Court, where I was sentenced to 9 years in prison, they moved me to a prison called Cipinang in Jakarta. I was taken there, and in those times, the prosecutors asked me to ask pardon to President Soeharto, so that I could obtain pardon quickly from Soeharto. Obtain pardon so that I could get out of prison.

In those times, I said: “No, I never contemplated asking pardon to the President of the Republic of Indonesia, because it was Soeharto who went to kill my people and seize my land, and […. Unclear…] and so it is Soeharto who should have asked for my pardon. I cannot ask Soeharto’s pardon because it was not I who disturbed the situation of the people of Indonesia. I did not seize the territories of Indonesia. It was Soeharto who went to Timor-Leste and committed very serious crimes.” Then they told me “ok, you can stop now. No more. We cannot talk further.” So I told them that I was ready to face the jail, and that I was not going to ask for pardons.

I wanted to say that although I was in prison, we continued to work, continued to organize the Resistance movement. Our colleagues continued to consider me as the Secretary-General of the organization, of RENETIL, they continued to ask for directions from me and I worked together with other comrades, especially with Commander Xanana in the prison, and continued to lead the resistance from the prison. That was the summary of my experience as a student, as a prisoner, an activist. And then, in the end, we obtained very good support from Indonesian students, Indonesian NGOs , individual Indonesians and the university. In those times, we also started to do open actions together with the other Indonesian students there. 

East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, is a country of 1.1 million people in the East Indies. It was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century and was an exporter of sandalwood and coffee. As the Portuguese economy struggled in the first part of the 20th century, the nation attempted to extract more resources from its colonies, including East Timor. This increase in Portuguese business control and demands was met with resistance by inhabitants. After Portugal announced in 1975 that the colony would soon become independent and began the process of decolonization, fighting broke out between rival Timorese factions. The Indonesian Army invaded and occupied East Timor in December of that year, and a few months later the country was formally annexed by Indonesia.

The Indonesian occupation was marked by repression and brutality. Under the dictatorship of Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were denied throughout Indonesia, including in occupied East Timor. Timorese who were suspected of harboring separatist sympathies—particularly those suspected of association with the small but resilient guerrilla resistance movement—were routinely arrested, imprisoned and tortured. Extrajudicial killings were common. The 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, in which Indonesian troops killed an estimated 200 men, women, and children who had participated in a funeral procession for a pro-independence activist, focused world attention on the continuing denial of democracy and self-determination in East Timor. The massacre and associated events also highlighted the importance of the Catholic Church, both as a focus of Timorese identity and as the only institution that could sometimes afford a measure of protection from government-sponsored violence.

In 1998, shortly after the fall of the Indonesian dictator Suharto, the new President B.J. Habibie announced a “consultation” by which the people of East Timor would be permitted to choose either autonomy within Indonesia or outright independence. The consultation took place in the form of a U.N.-supervised referendum in August 1999 in which 79 percent of the voters chose independence. In the weeks after the announcement of the vote, the departing Indonesian army and its associated Timorese militias destroyed most of the country’s infrastructure and killed over a thousand people. That December, a United Nations peacekeeping force was established, and a U.N. mission administered the country until the restoration of independence in 2002. East Timor and Indonesia are now both multiparty parliamentary democracies.

Violence has continued since East Timor gained independence. Violent clashes in 2006 between rioters and police forces led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. Police and rioters clashed once again leading up to the 2007 elections. The election required three separate ballots due to irregularities and accusations of fraud. Additionally, assassination attempts on both candidates and elected leaders occurred. In 2012, East Timor held both presidential and primary elections considered successful, free, and fair. At the end of that year, the UN ended its peacekeeping mission in the nation.
East Timor’s economy remains heavily dependent on commodities such as oil, coffee, and sandalwood.

Freedom House’s 2015 Freedom in the World Report lists East Timor as “partly free.” The country earned a freedom rating of 3 with 7 being the least free. East Timor also received civil liberties rating and political rights ratings of 3. The country still struggles with corruption and nepotism as well as a weak rule of law. Additionally, there is a lack of transparency surrounding the government and law regulates demonstrations that “question constitutional order” or could damage the reputation of the nation’s leaders. Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2014 report assigned a “Partly Free” rating to East Timor. 

More from Fernando "Lasama" de Araújo

Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo: Student-Prisoner-Activist Discusses his arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment. Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo: Timor-Leste Self Determination “We worked together in order to democratize Indonesia and to achieve self-determination for East Timor.” Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo: International Support “Often we lamented, what is the use of having this thing called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where everything is correctly defined, but the international community turns a blind eye on our problem.” More + Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo: Communication How prisoners of conscience communicated with the outside world, from notes smuggled in shampoo bottles to mobile phones. Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo: Example for the World “A society that is divided within itself will never be able to achieve anything.”