Veronica Koman (left) with Papuan activist Yosepha Alomang. (Photo from Veronica Koman's Facebook page)
Indonesian police are trying to track down a human rights activist wanted on suspicion of stoking recent unrest in the Papua region.
Veronica Koman, who is also a lawyer for the pro-independence group, the National Committee for West Papua, has failed to comply with a police summons and is thought to be in Australia, police said.
Investigators have called for her passport to be suspended and have also sought the help of intelligence officers and Interpol to track her down.
Koman was Sept. 4 accused by East Java Police of violating several laws, including the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Act, offences for which she could be jailed for up to six years if convicted.
Police said she had instigated violence by routinely tweeting videos of rallies in various cities after violent protests first broke out Aug. 19 in Papua and West Papua.
The two provinces have been wracked by violent incidents, which have killed at least 12 people, since security personnel and members of mass organizations called Papuan students arrested in Surabaya, East Java “monkeys, dogs and pigs” during a flag-vandalizing incident.
When the government blocked the internet in the country’s easternmost provinces on Aug. 21, Koman’s tweets became the only source of information for any updates on protests in the restive region.
Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Commission for Laity, called on police to act proportionally in dealing with any problems related to Papua, including Koman’s case.
He said the police needed a delicate hand when dealing with the situation, following weeks of tension. “Don’t do anything that can cause new problems,” he told ucanews.com Sept 13.
The priest also said the government should make sure law enforcement efforts are carried out fairly and don’t exacerbate the situation.
Activists, meanwhile, have united to defend Koman.
Tigor Hutapea, from the Solidarity of Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of several rights groups, said her case was setting a bad precedent for human rights activists.
He said Koman’ tweets were justified since she was acting as a lawyer for Papuan students, a role she had assumed since 2010. She was therefore a bonafide law advocate and could not be prosecuted, he added.
He also called the bid to nullify her passport a violation of her rights.
Police, however, claimed that officers have been transparent in handling Koman’s case and advised those who objected to the legal action against her to include their complaints in pretrial documents to the court.
“For us, everything that the investigator does can be tested in the pretrial process,” said police spokesperson Dedi Prasetyo.
A proven history
Koman has a long track record of fighting for the rights of Papuan activists.
In 2015, while working for the Jakarta Legal Aid service, she defended two university students charged with assaulting police officers during a demonstration in Jakarta on Papuan self-determination.
Two years later, she was among a group of lawyers who represented Papuan petitioners when they asked the Constitutional Court to remove several articles regarding treason in the Criminal Code.
Koman was among lawyers who petitioned the Central Information Commission to release the findings related to the murder of Munir Said Thalib, a prominent human rights activist who died from arsenic poisoning in 2004.
In 2017, she also attended rallies to support former Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who had been controversially jailed for blasphemy.
As of Sept. 13, Koman had not made any public statement about the charges against her, but was continuing to tweet videos and updates about the situation in Papua.