Timorese journalist charged for questioning ‘forced’ virginity tests

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Raimundos Oki calls testing of abused children a human rights violation

Raimundos Oki, editor of the news portal Oekusipost.com in Timor-Leste. (Picture: Facebook)

Posted: Jul 04, 2022 03:25 GMT

Updated: July 04, 2022 at 03:39 GMT

Timor-Leste police have accused a journalist of allegedly breaching judicial secrecy by publishing articles questioning the virginity tests of some underage girls, who were sexually abused by a convicted former priest.

The Criminal Investigations Scientific Police launched an investigation against Raimundos Oki, editor-in-chief of news portal Oekusipost.com, on June 30, according to local media. He was interrogated for about an hour.

Oki was criticized for his reports which, among other things, questioned the virginity tests carried out by the Attorney General on inmates at the Topu Honis shelter in Kutet, Oecusse.

Richard Daschbach, 84, an American citizen, was jailed for 12 years last December for sexually abusing orphaned and disadvantaged girls he cared for at the shelter he founded in 1993.

Oki’s articles argued that virginity tests were “forced” on victims, which he called a “major violation of human rights” guaranteed by the United Nations.

He also described that some of the victims had genital wounds that were torn and bleeding and one of them later died.

“I spoke to them, and they admitted to being forced to undergo a virginity test”

Some of his reporting has appeared in video format, with the girls’ faces and identities on display.

Orki is accused of violating Article 291 of the country’s Criminal Code on “judicial secrecy”, which states that those who “disclose the contents of criminal proceedings protected by confidentiality or when a decision has been ‘prohibiting disclosure, is punishable by 1 to 4 years’ imprisonment’ and ‘2 to 6 years’ imprisonment if the offense is committed through a press service’.

Oki spoke to UCA News on July 1 and insisted the reports were based on the results of his investigations and direct interviews with the 30 girls.

“When almost all the media, including the international media, focused on the former priest, I tried to bring up the other side, on the forced virginity test,” he said.

“I happen to be from Oecusse and found these 30 girls. I spoke to them and they admitted to being forced to take a virginity test,” he added.

He rejected if his articles sought to support Daschbach.

“I think I’m innocent. Unless the girls I interviewed come after me, I won’t feel guilty.”

“I do not support the former American priest. If he is guilty, he must be punished, but I do not want to ignore the girls who are victims of the virginity test.”

Oki said he exercised “his right to silence” when questioned by police.

“I told them that I would only speak when the case came to court,” he said.

“I think I’m innocent. Unless the girls I interviewed sue me, I won’t feel guilty,” he added.

The abuse case against Daschbach, the first against a clergyman in the majority Catholic country, has drawn immense national and global attention.

It also divides the Catholic community, including within the Church hierarchy. Heated debates between his supporters and victims’ advocates have flooded social media for years.

This was mainly because Daschbach, a former priest of the Divine Word, had long been lauded for his support for the country’s independence from Indonesia and for social services, including helping children from families poor.

Following an investigation and confirmation of the abuse, the Vatican removed Daschbach from the priesthood in 2018.

Still, he enjoyed the friendship of the country’s political leaders such as former president and prime minister Xanan Gusmao who publicly backed Daschbach during the abuse trial.

Catholic Church officials have repeatedly expressed support for the victims and urged local Catholics not to revere Daschbach as a priest, citing his dismissal by the Vatican.

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