An Indonesian policeman helps evacuate a family as houses burn after hundreds of demonstrators marched near Papua's biggest city Jayapura on Aug. 29. (Photo by Indra Thamrin Hatta/AFP)
An Indonesian rights activist has vehemently denied fomenting recent unrest in the country’s Papua region, calling police allegations against her a blatant attempt at “character assassination.”
Veronica Koman, a lawyer who has represented Papuan groups, including the Papuan Student Alliance in several human rights cases, is accused of inciting violence by routinely tweeting videos of rallies in various cities after violent protests broke out Aug. 19 in Papua and West Papua.
On Sept. 15 she broke her silence after police said she failed to comply with a second summons to answer charges.
The lawyer, who is currently in Australia, issued a statement on Facebook rejecting the allegations.
“I have chosen not to respond to accusations aired on an almost daily basis by the Indonesian police through mass media. This is not because the police’s accusations are true, but because I refuse to participate in efforts to divert attention from the real crisis currently gripping West Papua,” Koman said.
She called the case against her an attempt to quash the aspirations for an independence referendum sought by the many Papuans who took to the streets during the violent protests.
Violence in the two provinces flared after Papuan students staying in Surabaya, in East Java were subjected to racist taunts when being arrested following a flag-vandalizing incident.
The arresting officers allegedly called the students “monkeys, dogs and pigs.”
When the Indonesian government blocked the internet in the provinces on Aug. 21, Koman’s tweets became the only source of information on the protests in the restive region.
In her statement Koman also claimed the Indonesian government was attempting to create scapegoats due to their inability to resolve matters.
“I reject the attempts at character assassination against me in my role as official lawyer for the Papuan Student Alliance. The Indonesian police have overstepped their authority and gone over the top with exaggerations in an attempt to criminalize me,” Koman 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.
She has been given until Sept. 18 to comply with the police summons otherwise an Interpol red notice will be issued for lawyer.
Yuliana Langowuyo, deputy director of the Franciscan's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Papua, said the police pursuit of Koman could easily be applied to other human rights activists in the future.
“People will no longer have the courage to speak up,” she told ucanews.com.
She condemned the police’s actions against Koman and called for the charges to be dropped.
"For us, Koman has fought for the truth, about what has happened to the Papuan people in both Papua and elsewhere,” she said.
Various lawyers groups, such as Lawyers for Lawyers, in the Netherlands and Lawyers’ Rights Watch in Canada, have voiced similar calls.