Following a trial in the Dili court the martial arts members were found guilty on 20 August 2018 on counts of harbinging social discontent and organised violence.
The sentencing took place in Dili, by judge Singular Zulmira Auxiliadora, Prosecutor Reinato Berenahak. Public lawyer, José da Silva, represented the suspects.
According to court transcripts the gang members, known by the initials as AB, GB, CA, TS and KS, were from the KERA and SAKTI martial arts gangs. Amongst the sentenced were a woman and an under-age youth.
As many as 90,000 people – almost a tenth of the Timorese population – are said to belong to one of the country’s fifteen-odd “martial arts” groups, or gangs, according to James Scambury, an Australian researcher speacialising in gang culture in Timor-Leste.
Most of Timor-Leste’s gangs began as cells of resistance to Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999; others were first set up by Jakarta as a means to foster patriotism.
Today many of the groups see themselves not as gangs, but as security. Most offer a form of welfare and protection
"They're organs of their communities and provide a form of welfare and protection,” Scambury told the Guardian.
Scambury said criminal activity was attributed to a small number of the gangs.