The Indonesian Army invade Dili. (File photo: Balibo.com)

JAKARTA—An Indonesian court on Thursday upheld a national ban on the Australian-made film “Balibo” which deals with alleged war crimes by Indonesian troops in East Timor.

The judges rejected a challenge to the ban — lodged by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) — on the grounds that the film had the potential to damage relations between Indonesia and Australia, a lawyer said.

Starring Anthony LaPaglia and directed by Robert Connolly, the film tells the story of five Australian-based journalists allegedly murdered by Indonesian troops in the town of Balibo in October, 1975.

“The court said the film could incite political sensitivities in relations between the countries,” AJI lawyer Hendrayana said, adding that the ruling was idiosyncratic and ignored the public interest.

“The public should know what really happened (to the journalists). We’ll appeal the decision to a higher court.”

The court’s justification for upholding the ban is inconsistent with the censorship board’s reasoning, made public months after it outlawed the movie, that the film was biased and ignored Indonesia’s version of historic events.

The official trailer of ‘Balibo’ film

BALIBO Official Film Trailer from Footprint Films on Vimeo.

A third reason, that the film could damage Indonesia’s reputation and image, was given by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa shortly after the ban was announced last year.

The film was based on evidence given to an Australian coronial inquest that found Indonesian troops murdered the reporters in cold blood.

Indonesia claims the reporters — two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander — were killed in crossfire, and has refused to cooperate with an Australian war crimes investigation launched this year.

The widow of deceased Australian journalist Greg Shackleton testified at the court hearings in Jakarta over the film ban.

“My husband went to East Timor to find out who was crossing the border, burning houses, raping women and killing people. That was his job,” Shirley Shackleton said.

The ban has stirred debate over the nature of free speech and democracy in Indonesia, which has failed to prosecute any of its military officers over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor.

At least 100,000 East Timorese lost their lives through fighting, disease and starvation during Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation, which ended with a bloody vote for independence in 1999.