East Java Police have declared Veronica Koman, right, a suspect for allegedly spreading false information and provoking unrest in Papua and West Papua. (Photo courtesy of Facebook/Veronica Koman)

Indonesia Condemns Statement by UN Experts on Papua Unrest


SEPTEMBER 20, 2019

Jakarta. Indonesia has condemned a press statement issued by five independent United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteurs in which they expressed serious concern over recent development in Papua.

The five rapporteurs also urged the Indonesian government on Tuesday to drop all charges against human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, whom they said had been "subjected to harassment and abuse online for her work on alleged human rights violations in Papua."

Police have declared Veronica a suspect, accusing her of spreading false information and provoking unrest in Papua and West Papua by publishing reports on the protests and attacks against Papuan students in East Java.

Sporadic unrest in broke out in several cities in Indonesia's two easternmost provinces after racial animosity by hardline Muslims and members of the police and military against Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, in August.

The government said false information and provocative content spread on social media, including by Veronica, had contributed to the unrest.

The government managed to restore order in Papua and West Papua after about two weeks of unrest.

"We welcome actions by the government against the racial incident, but we urge it to take immediate steps to protect Veronica Koman from any form of retaliation and intimidation and drop all charges against her," the special rapporteurs said in the press statement.

They also expressed concern that the authorities may revoke Veronica's passport, block her bank accounts and request Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant against her.

The rapporteurs advised the government to maintain full internet access in Papua, after blocking it between Aug. 21 and Sept. 4.

"We urge the government of Indonesia to recognize the rights of all protesters and to ensure the continuation of the internet service... Restrictions on the internet and access to information in general have a detrimental impact on the ability of individuals to express themselves, and to share and receive information," they said.

Indonesia's permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva issued a statement expressing regret over the press release by the UN special rapporteurs.

"Limits on internet access were imposed in accordance with the law and the Constitution. The public interest and respect for freedom of speech were considered, especially to prevent the spread of hate speech and hoaxes, which triggered unrest in Papua," the mission said in the statement the Jakarta Globe received on Monday.

It added that Veronica was a suspect and had ignored several police summonses for questioning.

"[Her spreading of hoaxes and hate speech] is evidently unmatched with her self-proclamation as a human rights defender, but rather as an individual act that was intentionally spreading false news, which caused incitement and provocation resulting in the unrest," the mission said.

Police vs. Veronica 

The East Java Police have, in response, refused to intervene in Veronica's case, said they would soon put her name on a list of wanted suspects.

"There should be no intervention. Indonesian law is sovereign," East Java Police spokesman Chief Comr. Frans Barung Mangera said on Wednesday, as quoted by Kompas.

Veronica has defended herself in a statement posted on her Facebook account on Sunday.

"The Indonesian police have overstepped their authority and gone over the top with exaggerations in an attempt to criminalize me," she said, adding that the government was unable to handle the prolonged conflict in Papua and thus made her the scapegoat.

"West Papua has for decades been among the most restricted regions worldwide. My criminalization is nothing more than the continuation of a longstanding strategy to prevent information leaking out to the rest of the world," she said.

Police have also expressed concern over multiple bank accounts in Veronica's name, which showed withdrawals of large amounts, some from Papua. However, she accused the police of abusing their powers by looking in her bank accounts.

"The Indonesian police have abused their power by threatening to freeze my bank accounts, making exaggerated claims about the content and creating a false narrative of cash flows in 'conflict areas' to encourage media speculation and smear my character. There is no legal basis for this and the laws they are misusing to criminalize me have no connection with my financial situation," the human rights lawyer said.