30 July 2018

La’o Hamutuk Reminds Authors that their Writing has Consequences

Freedom of speech comes with responsibility. Although La’o Hamutuk opposes legal measures which could restrict discussion, we urge all political observers - including journalists, academics and bloggers, particularly non-Timorese who write from a distance - to remember that they should consider the repercussions on the Timorese people when they use their freedom of speech.  La’o Hamutuk (the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis) was founded on the principle that internationals and nationals work together to advance social justice in Timor-Leste, and we therefore offer this suggestion to the country’s international friends.

Two recent blog articles circulated on social media and focusing on political leaders exemplify unconstructive and irresponsible commentary.  One lambasts President Lu Olo with sensational accusations of constitutional abuse, while another compares Xanana Gusmão’s relationships with women to Donald Trump.

Political leaders should be held to a high standard, and no leader’s actions are above criticism. That said, commentary should be evidence-based, consistent with basic principles of journalistic ethics, and constructive.  Speculation, unnamed sources, personal attacks and inflammatory language are not helpful.  Additionally, debate about Timor-Leste should focus on policies, not personalities.  In the wake of recent political events, this country needs commentators, political leaders and citizens to focus on the programs that will shape the next five years and beyond.

Outside perspectives can improve debate by bringing in additional experiences and information; they also have consequences.  People who read these articles should also exercise judgment about their accuracy and helpfulness, and think twice before circulating or reposting them.

We all share responsibility to try to reduce polarization, personal attacks and counter-attacks, and partisanship.  These add unnecessary challenges to the difficult task of improving the lives of Timor-Leste’s people, who have already suffered greatly from outside intervention.  Overseas authors may not experience the negative impact of their writings, but the Timorese people will live with the consequences.  Authors who care about this beloved country have a moral obligation to contribute in a positive and constructive way.

For centuries, Timor-Leste was ruled by foreign governments who ignored the needs and desires of our people.  Now that we are independent, we need to change our approach from resistance to encouragement.  Please join us in the spirit of constructive debate, persuasion and collaboration which can move our country forward.


  1. Without entering into a discussion about the merits of the two articles mentioned above, I would offer a comment on the proposition that "... debate about Timor-Leste should focus on policies, not personalities". For better or worse, the character of government in a country is greatly influenced by both policies and personalities, as the case of Mr Trump well demonstrates. Ministers and political players are very frequently required to make decisions on matters where policy isn't specific, and for that reason a politician's character and personality can matter a lot. More broadly, whether a country is, in broad terms, well or badly led will very much tend to come down to the personalities of leaders. Regards! Michael Maley

  2. Will you please provide links to the original articles you reference here? I can find the Lu-Olo one on LinkedIn but the link you provide to the Xanana article doesn't provide the source.