• November 5, 2015


The conviction of two journalists in Indonesia this week brought back recollections of a tragedy years ago in which a journalist with links to Scotland and the Isle of Man died.

The two UK journalists convicted of violating Indonesian immigration laws this week, Neil Bonner and Rebecca Prosser are expected to be released almost immediately (due to time already spent in custody) and Prosser remarked when convicted ‘I don’t think journalism is a crime’ (see link):


Well the passage of time has obviously improved the image (from journalisms perspective) of Indonesia because at one time journalism was not only a crime but it carried the death penalty!

In October 1975 five journalists working for Australian media were executed whilst trying to cover the illegal Indonesian invasion of East Timor. The group comprised two Australians, reporter Greg Shackleton, 29, sound recordist, Tony Stewart, 21; a New Zealander, Gary Cunningham, 27 a cameraman; and two Britons, cameraman Brian Peters, 24, and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 29.

Malcolm Rennie was a Scot but his mother Minna Rennie lived in Ramsey, Isle of Man, and she campaigned ceaselessly (together with her niece Margaret Wilson) to find out the truth about her son Malcolm and the other members of the ‘Balibo Five’ as they became known. The Celtic League became involved in that campaign.

For many years their fate was unknown (they were thought to have been killed in cross-fire although the fact that all died raised concerns) and the Indonesian, British and Australian governments did all they could to frustrate her efforts and that of other relatives. Eventually however the truth did out and the Indonesians admitted that the five, together with Roger East, a journalist sent to investigate their fate, were summarily executed by Indonesian Special Forces.

As indicated although they knew of the murders the British and Australian governments connived in the cover-up. Australia regarded Indonesia as an important ally and trading partner. The United Kingdom was engaged in a lucrative arms trade with the country. Astonishingly as Mrs Rennie, the League and others were campaigning the UK were selling Hawk Jets to Indonesia and training the pilots. The latter fact led to another Manx connection in that the trainee aircrew based at RAF Valley used the IOM airport (as the RAF still do today) as part of that training.

At the time we complained to the Manx government but they brushed aside the complaint. Here’s an extract from a CL News release dated August 1996 from our archive:

“The Celtic League had asserted that the facility should be denied on moral grounds as Valley was being used in a contract to train Indonesian air crews. We enclosed graphic detail of the Indonesian human rights record in the occupied East Timor territory and also cited the distress the probable usage by Indonesian military personnel had caused to Island resident ‘Minna’ Rennie whose son, a journalist for Channel 9 TV Australia, was brutally murdered by the Indonesian military in 1975.

Mr. David North, Manx Minister of Transport has, unconvincingly, asserted that the Manx authorities cannot identify the nationality of aircrew using the facility and, again unconvincingly, cited safety considerations as justification for continuing the RAFs usage. Mr. Norths weak evasions are a stark contrast to the attitude of Mrs. Rennie who despite being in her mid seventies is determined if necessary to travel to Australia to publicise the murder of her son and other journalists by the Indonesians.

Meanwhile a parallel query to Welsh Secretary William Hague has been passed to the Ministry of Defence for “direct reply”. Last month the MOD initially denied that aircrew were being trained at Valley but subsequently this was ‘corrected’. The League had supplied similar graphic evidence of Rights abuse to the Welsh Office and indicated that the arrangement to train Indonesian military personnel at was morally offensive to the Celtic people.”

In 2008 when the men who ordered the murder of Rennie and the others were identified we urged the UK government to press for them to be brought to justice but Gordon Brown’s government brushed it aside.

Neil Bonner said he did not think journalism ‘was a crime’. In Indonesia however it seems it always has been and for the Balibo Five and Roger East the penalty was lethal. Shamefully the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia have never fully admitted their involvement in this dreadful episode.

Minna Rennie campaigned until her death for justice and accountability for her son.

Link – background on the Balibo Five:

Issued by: The Celtic News



The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues


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