Jakarta – Two human rights activists, Veronica Koman and Usman Hamid, have criticized a move by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan (LBP), as a public official, of reporting rights activist Haris Azhar and Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) Coordinator Fatia Maulidiyanti to the police over Pandjaitan's alleged mining interests in Papua.
Koman, who is known as an advocate and defender of the Papuan people through her tweets on Twitter, has challenged Pandjaitan to respond by revealing the data on his mining business interests rather than filing a criminal lawsuit.
"So there is something which is more important than the ego of a public official: revealing the data on concession in the Block Wabu [in Papua]. Fighting data with data", tweeted Koman on her Twitter account @veronicakoman on Wednesday September 22.
Furthermore, Koman believes that what was conveyed by Azhar and Maulidiyanti is based on clear data and refers to the results of research. So Pandjaitan only needs to prove his case with data as well.
Koman believes that Pandjaitan's actions will in fact increase public suspicion. In addition to this, Koman is also sure that it would be easy for Pandjaitan to reveal the data. She mentioned that Pandjaitan is also often referred to as "Lord Luhut".
"Especially for Luhut. Pak [Mr] Luhut is known as Lord Luhut, I'm sure it would be very easy for Pak Luhut to find and reveal the data on the Wabu Block. But instead [he has chosen to] sue human rights defenders. What is he hiding?", Koman told CNN Indonesia on Wednesday.
Koman is also sure that if Pandjaitan can prove that he is not involved in the mining business in Papua through data, then Azhar and Maulidiyanti would be prepared to apologise.
"If LBP does indeed not have any relationship whatsoever with the Wabu Block, all that remains is to reveal the data. Because we've all been waiting for this data. I'm sure that Haris and Fatia will be prepared to apologise if it turns out that the results of the research by the civil society groups is wrong", she explained.
"I condemn the criminalisation of @haris_azhar and @fatiamaulidya. The Papuan people reject natural resource and military business which have long robbed them of their land. So there is something that is more important than the ego of a public official: revealing the data on concessions in the Wabu Block. Fight data with data. – Veronica Koman (@VeronicaKoman) September 22, 2021.
Hamid meanwhile says that the path chosen by Pandjaitan will only worsen the government's image and undermine public participation.
Hamid, who is also known as the executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said that it is quite possible that Pandjaitan's move will carry the risk of making people even more afraid of expressing an opinion. Especially, he added, if that opinion is directed at a public official.
"The reporting [of Azhar and Maulidiyanti to the police] again shows the tendency of government officials to respond to critics with threats of legal action", he said in a press release on Wednesday.
Hamid also touched on the results of an Indonesian Political Indicator survey in October 2020 where the majority of people or around 79.6 percent of respondents admitted to becoming increasingly afraid to express and opinion.
Furthermore, he believes that the move is the complete opposite of repeated statements by government officials – including President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo – about their commitment to freedom of expression.
If indeed there are errors in the findings of the civil society investigation, Hamid believes that it would be enough for Pandjaitan to correct the findings based on data held by the ministry that he heads.
Like Koman, Hamid also believes it should not be difficult for the ministry to reveal data on which companies exactly are investing in the Wabu Block.
"With all the power that he has, Luhut shouldn't be threatening activists like Haris and Fatia with legal action", said the former Kontras coordinator.
Earlier, Pandjaitan officially reported Azhar and Maulidiyanti to the Metro Jaya regional police. The report is the aftermath of a video uploaded on Azhar's YouTube channel in which the former TNI (Indonesian military) general was alleged to be involved in the mining business in Papua.
Pandjaitan has accused Azhar and Maulidiyanti of tarnishing his good name by spreading fake news and is claiming 100 billion rupiah in damages.
Speaking about the report at the Metro Jaya regional police headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, Pandjaitan said, "I remind you there is no absolute freedom [of expression], all freedoms come with responsibilities and I have the right to defend my rights". (yla, tfq/kid)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Veronica Koman dan Usman Hamid soal Luhut: Data Lawan Data".]