Joni Marques

Perhaps the fervor over the Rogerio pardon will obscure the fact that one of the most high-profile militia convicted by the UN in its Special Tribunal will have his sentence reduced by half with the Amnesty.

Joni Marques was the leader of the Tim Alfa militia, which among other things, viciously attacked a car full of nuns and priests in Lospalos. Marques terrorized the district with the help of the TNI. Geoffrey Robinson wrote in his authoritative report of the events on September 25, 1999:

Joni Marques then ordered his men to set up a roadblock by placing large stones on the road. Some militiamen were posted on a nearby hill as a lookout, and others took up positions in a ditch with their weapons aimed up the road. Some witnesses testified in court that they knew that there was a plan to ambush the clergy’s vehicle.

One witness recalled that after setting up the roadblock, Joni Marques had said: “Now we will wait for the Sisters who will be coming towards Baucau…and when they come we will kill them all.”

At about 2:30 p.m. the same day, a gray four-wheel drive vehicle came into sight from the direction of Lautem heading west toward Baucau. There were eight people in the vehicle, including two nuns, three Brothers/Priests, a journalist and two other lay persons. When the vehicle stopped at the roadblock, Joni Marques and two other militiamen opened fire on it with their automatic weapons, instantly killing the driver and some of the passengers.

As one of the surviving passengers tried to get out of the vehicle, a militiaman grabbed him and dragged him to the river where he was shot and killed. The same militiaman poured petrol over three other survivors and lit them on fire. One of the three ran from the car to the river, where Joni Marques and another man shot and killed him.

One of the nuns, Sister Erminia, got out of the vehicle and knelt down by the roadside to pray. As she prayed, a militiaman (Horacio) slashed her with a machete. Another militiamen (Pedro da Costa) testified that he had yelled “Don’t kill a Sister!” but that Joni Marques had replied “Kill them all! They are all CNRT!” A militiaman then picked up Sister Erminia and threw her in the river, before shooting her twice. At the trial, a witness testified:

“I noticed a nun sitting beside a [ditch]. There was a body beside the nun. I noticed the cap of the nun was on her shoulder. The nun talked to me in Tetum. I cannot remember all the words, but I remember she was saying ‘Oh! God!’”

At about this time, Joni Marques ordered his men to push the clergy’s vehicle into the river. Several witnesses testified that he shouted: “Come here and push the car, you mother fuckers!” The men did so, though one person was still inside the vehicle. When the person got out of the car, he was shot and killed.

I observed the trial for two weeks in 2001. It was the first crimes against humanity trial and did have obvious flaws from a legal and human rights perspective. But from a human perspective, I cannot forget witnesses, a number of them told of untold cruelty and inhumanity by Tim Alfa.

One of the most disturbing incidents was what happened after they pushed the car into the river, when they returned to a young man they had tied to a tree and mutilated his body.

Joni Marques and two co-defendants were handed 33 year and 4 month sentences in 2001 by the Special Tribunal, which were in effect life sentences. (Read JSMP’s report to understand the strange and perhaps illegal sentencing.)

JSMP argues that Marques could only legally serve a 20 year sentence under the penal code at the time he was convicted. Marques (and three co-defendants) were granted a reduction of their imprisonment to one-half by the Presidential Amnesty.

I will need help from a legal mind to conclude the full implications of this. But judging by the fact that he was imprisoned in 1999, it could suggest that he would be free after 10 years in prison, which would mean next year.

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