President of East Timor releases the men that attempted to murder him two years ago.

In East Timor, Gastao Salsinha has been released from prison after leading an attempt to murder the president and prime minister in 2008.  In March, Salsinha was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his actions, however, he is free today.  The president, Mr. Ramos-Horta, says that the release of Salsinha and the 23 other men from the attack is about forgiveness, peace, mercy, and stability which all outweigh the need for punitive remedies.  He believes that their actions can be attributed to the government breakdown and are ultimately not their fault.  Will releasing these prisoners really promote the president’s vision, or will it create more chaos by allowing the crimes to go unpunished?


  1. Ellen poses some thoughtful questions regarding the release of the president’s would-be assassins. I also wonder about the impact of releasing these attempted murderers on other individuals imprisoned for similar crimes. I would imagine that the 24 men released are not the only individuals convicted for attempted murder in East Timor. Therefore, can this release provide grounds for appeal for the release of similarly situated prisoners? Will it create instability in the prison population? Is attributing their actions to the government breakdown sufficient to limit this release from a groundswell of appeals from other prisoners? I think that only time will tell of the effects of Mr. Ramos-Horta’s decision.

  2. While President Romas-Horta’s stance that compassion and forgiveness are virtues that will lead to greater stability in his country, I can’t help but think that he will come to regret this decision. East Timor is currently in the midst of an extended period of great violence and there isn’t a situation where the rule of law is more important. President Romas-Horta’s decision to commute the sentences of his attackers is too likely to be viewed as unwillingness to uphold the law and weakness when it comes to enforcing the penalties meant to deter the most serious of crimes. This could only lead to the loss of confidence of President Ramos-Horta’s constituents that he is able to effectively lead his country. These pardons are just the latest among dozens of commutations by the current president and his predecessor and they have done nothing to stem the violence that plagues East Timor. Furthermore, the UN has expressed concerns that the commutations endanger future investigations into war crimes.

  3. The actions of Presient Ramos-Horta should be commended. Ramos-Horta’s vision for “forgiveness, peace, mercy, and stability” is refreshing given East Timor’s extremely violent and unstable past. In 1975, following independence from Portugal, East Timor was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces. During the 24-year Indonesian occupation, there were approximately 100,000 conflict-related deaths. Again, in 1999, anti-independence supporters killed approximately 1,400 Timorese. Following independence in 2002, unrest within the country continued. Hopefully, releasing Salsinha and his accomplices from prison can encourage dialogue, foster trust, and potentially lead to a peaceful East Timor. In any event, the risk of releasing 24 prisoners in the hope of peace certainly outweighs the probability of further deaths and unrest in retaliation for the imprisonment of Salsinha and his accomplices.

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