A Longford man was among those honoured by the President of Timor Leste Taur Matan Ruak recently, as he acknowledged the international solidarity work carried out by the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign (ETISC).
Joe Murray, a native of Ballyglasson, Carrickboy, accepted the medal of the Order of Timor Leste as part of the ETISC, which was founded in 1992 by former bus driver Tom Hyland after he saw a documentary entitled ‘In Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor’, which showed the murder of 270 people by Indonesian soldiers in a cemetery in Dili, the capital of East Timor.
Co-ordinator of the human rights organisation, Afri which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, Joe worked closely with the ETISC, until East Timor achieved independence.
Stating that it was “one of the greatest campaigns I’ve ever been involved with,” Joe admitted that there were many dark days throughout the course of their work.
“I remember meeting Tom often, and he’d be telling me about the latest atrocity and it almost seemed hopeless, but the great thing was; people continued to hope and believe that it was possible.”
The last time Joe was in Timor Leste was in 1999, three years before they would become independent. Listing some of the differences between then and now, Joe explained that the first difference is a noteable absence of fear and “an almost tangible sense of liberation”.
Describing the event as “extraordinary”, Joe also told of another personal highlight on his latest trip. Along with spending time with Tom, who now lives and teaches there, Joe got to meet Xanana Gusmáo, who was in prison in Jakarta in 1999. Dubbed the Nelson Mandela of Timor Leste, Xanana has since held the positions of President and Prime Minister.
Stating that it’s a great honour to work in the area of human rights, Joe was keen to highlight the incredible work of both Tom Hyland and Sean Steele, who unfortunately, was too unwell to travel for the presentation.
Referencing Afri and the work they have been involved with, Joe also acknowledged the generosity of the Irish and indeed, the people of Longford, adding, “I hope they will continue to support us into the future.”
For more information on afri, visit www.afri.ie.