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Indonesian activist's supporters pay off debt to govt

Papuan backers of exiled lawyer Veronica Koman stump up cash demanded to put pressure on rights campaigner

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Indonesian activist's supporters pay off debt to govt

Papuan representatives in traditional costume from a group calling itself ‘The Ebamukai Solidarity Team for Veronica Koman’ hand over money demanded by the Indonesian government from the exiled activist on Sept. 16 at the Ministry of Political, Legal and Security Affairs in Jakarta. (Photo supplied)

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Priests and supporters of Veronica Koman, a lawyer and pro-Papuan rights activist wanted by the Indonesian government, have succeeded in raising more than US$50,000 demanded from her by Jakarta.   

A group calling themselves “The Ebamukai Solidarity Team for Veronica Koman” handed over 773.8 million rupiah ($53,000) on Sept. 16 to the Ministry of Political, Legal and Security Affairs in Jakarta.

The government said it wanted the money from the activist because she defaulted on a scholarship pledge to return to Indonesia and take up government work after completing a master's degree in law in Australia.

Koman and her supporters dispute the claim and view the move as an attempt to put pressure on her to return home from exile in Sydney after being accused of inciting unrest in Indonesia’s restive Papua region last year.

Last September, she was accused of instigating violence by tweeting videos of unrest in several cities after protests broke out the region in response to racism directed at Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java.

"When we learned the Indonesian government had demanded she return the scholarship funds, we immediately began fundraising as a mark of our support,” Markus Haluk, the supporters’ group coordinator, told UCA News.

“We set up booths, collected money at markets and at road intersections, and online." 

Father John Bunay, representing a number of indigenous Papuan priests, said they also donated money because they had "witnessed and felt Koman’s care and love for suffering Papuans."

Many Papuans and international rights groups accuse Indonesia of mounting a campaign of oppression in a region which has been gripped by a low-level insurgency for decades by pro-independence groups.  

“In situations of suffering. she has been there to lighten our burdens and tears in a very noble way,” Father Bunay said. "Her voice of love for the dignity of the Papuan people is beyond what we can offer her." 

Koman expressed her deepest gratitude to the Papuan people in a message posted on the Facebook page of Victor Mambor, a Papuan journalist.  

She thanked those “who have defended my dignity" and said that she was much more fortunate than the Papuan people whose rights have been violated.

She also said the government's efforts to put pressure on her were a warning to other Indonesians wanting to support Papuans’ right to self-determination.

"Solidarity from the Papuan people is a guide for me that this path is right," she said.

Koman has a long track record in fighting for Papuans’ rights.

In 2015, she defended two university students charged with assaulting police officers during a Jakarta rally to demand Papuan self-determination.

Two years later, she was among a group of lawyers who represented Papuans who petitioned the Constitutional Court to remove several articles covering treason in the Criminal Code.

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