Government wants Papua activist Veronica Koman to return scholarship money

CNN Indonesia – August 11, 2020
Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman speaking at event – Undated (CNN)

Jakarta – Human Rights activist and lawyer, Veronica Koman, says that the Indonesian government has asked her to return scholarship money amounting to 773 million rupiah (US$52,760) which she received to pursue her master’s degree in Australia in 2016.

According to Vero – as she is known – this financial punishment is a form of pressure by the government so that she stops speaking out about and advocating human rights (HAM) issues in Papua.

“The Indonesian government is applying this financial punishment as the latest attempt to pressure me into stopping my advocacy for HAM in Papua”, she said in a written release received by CNN Indonesia on Tuesday August 11.

Koman said that this is the fourth time that the government has tried to punish her financially after earlier incurring other sanctions and punishments.

Koman said that she is a victim of criminalisation by the government because of the Papuan human rights advocacy work she is doing.

Prior to this the government also tried to pressure Interpol into issuing a Red Notice for her arrest and then threatening to cancel her passport.

“Now the government is forcing me to return my scholarship [money] which was given to me in September 2016. The total amount they’re asking for is 773,876,918 rupiah”, said Koman.

Koman explained that the government is applying this financial punishment through the Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) which is under the Ministry of Finance. It is claimed that she failed to fulfill the requirement that she return to Indonesia after completing her period of study.

Yet, Veronica claims she returned to Indonesia in 2018 after graduating from her Master of Laws Program at the Australian National University. At the time she went to the West Papua provincial capital of Jayapura to continue her advocacy work related to human rights issues in the Land of the Bird of Paradise, as Papua is known.

A year later, in March 2019, she also spoke at a United Nations forum held in Switzerland, after which she again returned to Indonesia. Two months later Koman says that she provided pro-bono legal aid to Papuan activists at three different trials in Timika, Papua.

Koman says that she was only included on the list of wanted people (DPO) in August 2019. At the time, she was making use of a three-month visa and had been in Australia to attend a graduation ceremony since July 2019.

“When I was in Australia in August 2019, I was summoned by the Indonesian police after which I was placed on the wanted persons list in September 2019”, she said.

“Between August and September 2019 I continued to speak out against the narrative being created by the authorities when the internet was blocked in Papua, namely by continuing to post photographs and videos of thousands of Papuan who were still taking to the streets to protest racism and demand a referendum on self-determination”, she said.

At that time, the decision to remain in Australia, she said, was not because she did not want to return to Indonesia. To this day, not only has she has frequently received death and rape threats, but has also become the target of an online misinformation, a government sponsored campaign exposed in a Reuters news service investigation.

In relation to the financial punishment, Koman said that the Finance Ministry (Kemenkeu) is ignoring the fact that she returned to Indonesia after graduating from her studies. According to Koman, the government is also ignoring the fact that she has shown a willingness to return to Indonesia if and when the threats stop.

“In a letter, I asked the Kemenkeu, specifically [Finance] Minister Sri Mulyani to act fairly and be neutral in looking at this problem so they don’t become one of the state institutions that wants to punish me because of my capacity as a public lawyer who defends HAM in Papua”, she said.

As of this article being posted, the Finance Ministry has failed to respond to questions related to Koman. Finance Ministry communication bureau chief Puspa Rahayu has not responded to SMS messages or phone calls from CNN Indonesia asking for an explanation from the department. (thr/ugo)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Veronica Koman Diminta Kembalikan Uang Beasiswa Rp773 Juta”.]