Financial Punishment Against Human Right Defender Shows No Respect For Freedom of Expression

Indonesian authorities should protect human rights defenders and avoid any kind of punishment against them, said Amnesty International Indonesia and Amnesty International Australia today in response to financial sanction against human right lawyer, Veronica Koman.

Koman was recently asked to return scholarship fund totaling Rp 773 million (AUD 73000) for her master’s degree studies in Australia from the Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP), a government-funded scholarship program under the coordination of the Indonesian Finance Ministry. Koman studied her master’s degree in law at the Australian National University in September 2016 and graduated last year.

The two organizations urge Indonesian authorities to drop the penalty against Koman, who has been actively advocating for the rights of Papuans.

“Instead of imposing punishment, the Indonesian Government should support her activities in revealing alleged human rights violations,” said Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director.

Hamid added no one should be intimidated for their activities in defending human rights.

“If the LPDP has no strong reason to ask the refund that can be legally proven, we believe that it is a form of intimidation and criminalization to deter Koman from speaking out against human rights violations related to Papua. Intimidation against human rights defenders is clearly a human right violation,” Hamid said.

Koman has been providing legal aid to many Papuan political activists and documented human rights violations in Papua.

“Exposing alleged human rights violations is an opportunity for Indonesia to show its commitment to support minority groups and to consistently stay true to the founding spirit of Pancasila. Koman and all human rights defenders must be supported and protected,” said Sam Klintworth, Amnesty Australia National Director.

LPDP has claimed that the financial sanction was imposed because Koman did not return to Indonesia after her study. But Koman explained that she had returned to Indonesia in 2018 to advocate several issues in Papua. However, the LPDP denied her explanation, stating that Koman had not yet graduated at that time and that she had just graduated in July 2019.

According to media reports, there are many LPDP awardees and alumnus who work abroad and do not return home to Indonesia, but there are no consequences for them.

This is not the first time for Koman to face intimidation. In the past two years, she has faced harassment, intimidation and threats, including death and rape threats, for her work exposing allegations of human rights violations in Papua.

She was once persecuted for tweeting about a violent attack on a Papuan student’s dormitory on August 17, in which police fired tear gas. The police charged her with “incitement” under provisions from the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE Law), Article 160 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code and the Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Law, for tweets which they said “hoax” news.

Amnesty International has analysed the tweets, which document human rights violations against Papuans, and concluded that charging Koman under these provisions represents a travesty and gross misuse of the law.

“Those in power are trying to silence human rights defenders. They are locked up for speaking up. For years, they are threatened, attacked and even murdered,” Hamid said.

“It is time for all government to protect them and ensure that activists can take to the streets to express their views peacefully,” Klintworth said.