Around the World

The Activist and the Rebel: Love and Revolution in East Timor

In 2002, the world recognized Timor-Leste as the first democratic nation of the 21st century. The path to independence from Indonesia for this tiny island in the Pacific Ocean was paved with violent conflict. Over 24 years of resistance, hundreds of thousands of Timorese were killed. The country’s rebel hero, Xanana Gusmao, was jailed for many of those years, but he led the liberation movement from behind bars with the unlikely aid of a young Australian woman.

That woman was Kirsty Sword, an aspiring documentary filmmaker turned activist. Their unlikely and true-life love story and that of Timor-Leste’s independence is chronicled in “Alias Ruby Blade” by documentary filmmakers Alex and Tanya Meillier. The film recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Sword said she moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, “inspired and impassioned by the cause of East Timorese and their tremendous will to achieve self-determination and independence.”

Gusmao was serving a life sentence from 1993 in a Jakarta prison. Soon, Sword was helping in the resistance movement, smuggling letters in and out of his jail cell through friends who would visit him. She adopted the name “Ruby Blade” because everyone in the clandestine movement had to disguise their real names for their own protection and that of others in the resistance.

“I chose Blade because it was similar to my last name and Ruby just sounded very Agatha Christie and very romantic,” said Sword in an interview with Christiane Amanpour.

Though she only met Gusmao once during his prison term, Sword said they established a deep bond through their correspondence. That eventually turned into love.

“In the beginning of the relationship, I was plagued by many doubts about my feelings,” said Sword. “I was not sure if I was simply attracted to him because he was a charismatic leader of an inspiring struggle. What allowed us to develop that bond into something longer-lasting was our shared passion for and love for the people of East Timor, for the country - a passion for seeing a better life created through independence for Timor-Leste.”

They could finally be together with the fall of Indonesia’s Suharto regime in May 1998. Gusmao was released from prison and into house arrest. They were married in 2000.

After the East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999, the newly named country of Timor-Leste held its first elections in 2002. Gusmao was easily elected president and Sword became first lady. Gusmao now serves as prime minister.

“We have very high hopes for the country,” said Sword. “People hold in their memories the images of rock throwing and violence dating back to 2006 during a political crisis. But things have been very peaceful since then. It’s vital to our nation-building efforts.”

Loading...
  • 10 Things to Know for Today
    10 Things to Know for Today

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

  • Americans among 12,000 foreign fighters in Syria: US
    Americans among 12,000 foreign fighters in Syria: US

    Some 12,000 foreign jihadists from 50 countries, including Americans, have gone to fight in Syria since the conflict began, the US State Department said Thursday. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated that more than 100 US citizens have traveled or tried to travel to Syria to join the conflict. They have traveled to join radical groups including the Islamic State (IS), militants fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria who have expanded into neighboring Iraq. "We think that there are approximately 12,000 fighters from at least 50 countries in Syria -- foreign fighters, including a small number of Americans -- that may have traveled to Syria since the beginning of the conflict" more than three years ago, said deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

  • The 'Unbelievable' Way the US Misinterpreted Iran's Remarks Today
    The 'Unbelievable' Way the US Misinterpreted Iran's Remarks Today

    A defiant statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister linking cooperation against ISIS in Iraq to sanctions relief might actually be a giant, lost-in-translation misunderstanding, the State Department said today. According to state-run media, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran would help the West with the crisis in Iraq if the West lifts sanctions – a report that has made its way into English-speaking media. "If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side of the negotiations should do something in return,” Zarif is quoted as saying. “"All the sanctions that are related to Iran's nuclear program should be lifted,” he added.

  • Ice bucket challenge goes awry, firefighters hurt
    Ice bucket challenge goes awry, firefighters hurt

    Four firefighters were injured — two seriously — when a fire truck's ladder got too close to a power line after they helped college students take part in an ice bucket challenge, police said Thursday.

  • Iceland volcano eruption would shut down air travel: authority
    Iceland volcano eruption would shut down air travel: authority

    Icelandic aviation authorities warned Wednesday an eruption of the nation's largest volcano would trigger a shutdown of airspace, in a potential replay of the global travel chaos triggered when another peak blew four years ago. Authorities evacuated tourists and hikers overnight from the area around Bardarbunga volcano, which kicked into seismic action on Monday with the biggest earthquake registered since 1996. "There's nothing we can do if we get another big eruption like that of Eyjafjoell except to interrupt air traffic in the dangerous areas," Icelandic Civil Aviation Administration spokesman Fridthor Eydal was quoted as saying on news site mbl.is. The eruption of Eyjafjoell, a smaller volcano, in April 2010 caused travel mayhem, stranding more than eight million travellers in the biggest airspace shut down since World War II.

  • Why did US refuse Islamic State ransom demand for James Foley?

    The revelation that militants of the Islamic State terrorist organization sought a ransom in exchange for the release of American journalist James Foley is putting a new spotlight on the US government’s strict no-ransom policy. The US has a longtime policy spanning administrations of both major political parties that categorically rules out paying ransom to terrorists for American citizens based on the conviction that paying for one hostage now leads to more hostage taking later. “It’s a terribly difficult decision of course, but the idea behind not paying the kidnappers is that when you do, you encourage the activity for someone else,” says Mathew Levitt, an expert on Islamist terrorism and US counterterrorism policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Senior officials are on record in recent years stating publicly that the relatively low number of abductions of Americans by Al Qaeda and its affiliates over the last decade – especially compared with abductions of citizens of European countries that do pay ransoms – is evidence of terrorists’ recognition that kidnapped Americans are not a valuable commodity.

  • Man's Subway Stunt Lands Job Interviews, Internet Fame
    Man's Subway Stunt Lands Job Interviews, Internet Fame

    It can be challenging to get an interview for a new job, especially straight out of college. After applying for 300 jobs and not getting a single favorable response, one young man decided to take a different approach. Alfred Ajani, 22, stood in a London subway station during rush hour with a sign that said he recently graduated with a 2.1 bachelor of honours degree in marketing and offered up his résumé. (embedding subway pic) He posted a picture of himself holding the sign onto his Twitter page, which quickly gained hundreds of retweets, got him trending in London, and also brought in some promising prospects.

  • Rosberg learns from lessons of Hungary fiasco
    Rosberg learns from lessons of Hungary fiasco

    Championship leader Nico Rosberg said he has learned his lessons from events at the controversial Hungarian Grand Prix last month and will change his approach to team strategy decisions at future races. Rosberg's lead in the championship was trimmed to 11 points at the Hungaroring a month ago when his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton ignored a team instruction and took third place in a chaotic race. "I've learnt various things from that race which I will try to adapt to in the future," Rosberg told a news conference on Thursday ahead of this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.

Loading...