Papuans Raise $50,000 for Indonesian Human Rights Lawyer Hounded by Government

Veronica Koman has been under fire from the Indonesian government, which tried to have her arrested.
Indonesia, Papua, West Papua

Veronica Koman. Photo supplied

Activists in the Indonesian region of Papua have helped raise more than $50,000 for prominent human rights lawyer Veronica Koman after the government demanded she return state scholarship funds in a move she called “financial punishment” for her advocacy.

The 32-year-old lawyer lives in Sydney, Australia but has been on the Indonesian police’s wanted list since September 2019 after being accused of provoking unrest in Papua and spreading misinformation on Twitter. 

Officials are demanding the return of 773.8 million Rupiah ($53,000) she received in 2016 from the Education Fund Management Institute under the Indonesian Ministry of Finance on grounds Koman did not fulfill requirements to return to the country after completing her studies abroad, which she disputes.

Human rights groups have repeatedly voiced concerns over human rights violations by the Indonesian government against indigenous Papuans, and Koman’s work and case have attracted international attention, including support from American linguist and activist Noam Chomsky.

But it was local Papuans who hit markets, street corners and social media to ask for donations. The fundraising effort began on August 12, a day after Koman announced the government’s request to return the money on Facebook. In total they raised nearly $52,000.

Once collected, Papuan community representatives went to the Finance Ministry’s Education Fund Management Institute office on Wednesday to symbolically refund the money. 

The Jakarta Post reported they planned to hand over about a certain amount in cash, with an Indonesian flag, and a copy of the West Papuan Special Autonomy Law. The remaining funds will be transferred. But security guards didn’t let them in, saying nobody was in the office because of COVID-19.

It is unclear whether the government will still ask Koman to repay the scholarship or accept the total amount from the donations as a solution.

Nevertheless, Koman said she was deeply moved by the act. 

“I was very sad to be criminalized by the government. It interfered with my ability to provide advocacy. But now I realized that my work has been appreciated,” Koman told Tirto.id. “This shows that although many have accused me of being a traitor, I have done the right thing for most Papuans.”

After working towards a Master’s degree from Australian National University, Koman said on her Facebook page that she returned to Indonesia in September 2018 and worked for the Human Rights Advocates Association for Papua.

In July 2019, she visited Australia to attend her graduation ceremony. While she was there, she uploaded videos of demonstrations triggered by racial abuse at a Papuan student dormitory in the Indonesian city of Surabaya in East Java. She was charged with violating the Electronic Information and Transactions Law for allegedly spreading fake news and inciting unrest in Papua.

Koman was then declared a fugitive by the Indonesian police, which ultimately prevented her from fulfilling the scholarship requirement to return to the country.


VICE News
Via Vice News

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