Journalist Raimundos Oki (center) reacts after his court hearing in Dili, East Timor, on June 1, 2017. (Photo: AFP)
A global media watchdog has urged Timor-Leste to drop charges against a journalist accused of violating judicial confidentiality by publishing reports questioning the virginity tests of underage girls in an abuse case involving an ex-priest.
Raimundos Oki, editor-in-chief of The Oekusi Post, is facing a possible six-year jail sentence for questioning the virginity tests during the investigations in the case of convicted American and former Catholic priest Richard Daschbach.
“The story that Raimundos Oki covered is so sensitive that the justice system cannot suddenly accuse him of violating judicial confidentiality without taking account of broader public interest concerns,” Daniel Bastard, the head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Asia-Pacific desk, said in a statement on July 19.
Oki came under fire for his reports which, among other things, questioned the virginity tests by the public prosecutor on inmates of the Topu Honis Shelter run by Daschbach in Kutet, Oecusse.
Daschbach, 84, was jailed for 12 years in December for sexually abusing young orphaned and underprivileged girls in his care at the shelter he founded in 1993.
“It is perfectly healthy in a mature democracy for a journalist to question how a judicial investigation is conducted,” Bastard added.
Previously, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also condemned the charges and reminded Timor-Leste to respect press freedom.
The RSF statement said governments must ensure journalists can do their job safely even when “holding public officials and authorities to account” without fear of prosecution.
Oki was questioned by the Criminal Investigation Scientific Police in Dili, the capital, on June 30. The journalist chose silence and said he would only speak if the case was brought to court.
Oki has argued in his articles that the virginity tests were "forced" on the victims and termed them "a major violation of human rights" guaranteed by the United Nations.
He also described how some of the victims had wounds to their genitals and bleeding, and that one of them later died. Some of his reports appeared in video format, with the girls' faces and identities exposed.
Oki claimed he spoke to the girls and they admitted being forced to undergo a virginity test.
He dismissed allegations that his articles sought to support Daschbach.
Church authorities declined to comment and a priest told UCA News that Dili Archbishop Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva had warned last year to avoid talking publicly about Daschbach's case.
Oki also believed the Church will not speak on the issue because it “may have been satisfied with the conviction of the former American priest by allowing 30 girls to be victims of virginity tests."
The journalist told UCA News that he had not been summoned again by the authorities in the case.