AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman has spoken out for the first time since police accused her of inciting unrest in West Papua two weeks ago.
In an international press statement released on Facebook, Koman said she had chosen not to respond to the accusations as they were an attempt to divert attention away from the “real crisis currently gripping West Papua".
“It seems the aim is that the clear aspiration for an independence referendum voiced by hundreds of thousands of West Papuans who took to the streets over the past few weeks will be swept from view,” Koman wrote.
The statement went on to say that the Indonesian government was seeking “scapegoats” for the unrest, rather than addressing the root of the conflict by hearing the West Papuan call for an independence referendum.
Police made the allegations in response to Koman’s social media activity which featured a video of the racist attack on West Papuan students in Surabaya in August, seen as the initial trigger of the unrest.
Koman has called the criminalisation of her activities "fabricated".
“The criminal case being fabricated against me is only one of many being pursued in a wholesale program of criminalisation and intimidation underway right now.”
Koman also wrote that she rejected the character assassination of her in her role as official lawyer for the Papua Students Alliance and condemned the police threat to investigate her bank accounts.
“The Indonesian police have abused their power by claiming they will freeze my bank accounts, making exaggerated claims about their contents and creating a false narrative of cash flows in “conflict areas” to encourage media speculation and smear my character.”
She stated that the Jakarta police had been intimidating her family while immigration officials had threatened to revoke her passport.
“For years, the Indonesian government has allocated more time and energy to waging a propaganda war than it has to investigating and ending human rights abuses in West Papua.”
“Now we are seeing a clear example of ‘shoot the messenger’ in the State’s effort to persecute those, including me, who draw attention to abuses it is unwilling or unable to address.”
ABC AM reported that despite the threats, Koman had still been posting social media material that depicted Indonesian police and military abusing Papuans.
The ABC report stated that Indonesian demonstrators had staged a rally against Koman outside the Australian consulate in Surabaya and that Indonesian police had sought formal assistance from the consulate to help track her down in Australia.
"If she ignores a second summons we will put her on the wanted list," deputy police chief Toni Harmanto was reported saying.
According to CNN Indonesia, two international NGOs have written to Indonesian President Joko Widodo asking for the charges against Koman to be dropped.
Lawyers for Lawyers from Holland and the Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada sent the letter to Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs Wiranto and East Java police chief Luki Hermawan as well.
The letter implored Widodo to ensure Koman's protection as she had allegedly received death and rape threats since the police accusations were made.
"Ensure protection for Veronica Koman, and guarantee that in all situations lawyers in Indonesia can carry out their legal practices free from threats, intimidation, obstruction, harassment, hindrance which is wrong or vengeful," read the letter.
The letter and Koman's statement come as Indonesian authorities continue to arrest a number of high profile activists for their alleged connection with the protests.
According to The Guardian, armed Indonesian police forcibly “abducted” United Liberation Movement for West Papua executive committee member Buchtar Tabuni last week.
Considered by police to be a "mastermind" of the unrest, Tabuni was arrested on charges of suspected treason without any prior summons or notice.
Another prominent activist, head of the West Papua National Committee's (KNPB) Mimika branch Steven Itlay, was also arrested due to his alleged "plotting" to stage further riots, reported the Jakarta Globe.
Police suspected Itlay of collaborating with Oxford-based activist Benny Wenda, who has since spoken to RNZ Pacific, denying he had a hand in the unrest.