Indonesian human rights lawyer Koman refuses to be cowed on Papua

2019-10-22 04:06:05

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Veronica Koman, a human rights lawyer sought by Indonesian police over Twitter posts authorities blame for fanning unrest in the Papua region, has a tattoo on each wrist.

The first, inked when she was in her late teens and a fervent nationalist, reads simply “Indonesia” and, she says, meant that “Indonesia is running through my veins”.

The second, which she got a few years later after becoming “exposed to social justice”, has become a defiant riposte to the vitriol she has received for defending activists and advocating self-determination for Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost provinces. 

The tattoo reads “DILLIGAF”, an abbreviation for a crude saying which roughly stands for “Do I look like I give a damn?”

“I’ve actually been experiencing this weird systematic attack, if you like, online since I think it was almost two years ago,” Koman said in an interview in Australia, where she is now living.

The threats can come in slickly produced video posted on YouTube or comments from anonymous social media accounts.

The abuse includes death threats, incitements to sexual assault and racist slurs, online material reviewed by Reuters showed. It also includes the publication of personal information about her and her family. 

“I have never, ever published anything personal about me on social media. Not even fun photos with friends. It’s precisely because I knew that my work is very risky,” she said.

“It was information that’s only available on family (identification) cards…. I have a feeling it was state-backed, otherwise who else?”

Asked about her comments, Frans Barung Mangera, a spokesman for East Java police, which has been investigating Koman, said by telephone it was “impossible” for officers to be behind it and noted the lawyer had made many enemies.

A national police spokesman could not be reached for comment, but an official at Indonesia’s intelligence agency said it would not expose such data because it protected everyone.

Koman says the online invective has increased since she was charged in September under Indonesia’s hoax news and racial discrimination laws for comments she posted about the recent violence in Papua.

Koman, who uses her Twitter account to share videos, photographs and comment on the situation in Papua, has denied any wrongdoing and Amnesty International Indonesia has urged police to drop their charges.

Demonstrators in Papua protesting perceived racism and calling for independence have clashed with security forces for more than two months.

Dozens have died, including indigenous Papuan protesters, police and migrants from other parts of Indonesia.

Koman said she left Indonesia in December after she was harassed by nationalist groups for representing Papuan protesters arrested in the East Java city of Surabaya and was warned there were direct threats to her physical security.

Indonesia police have said they are seeking an Interpol Red Notice for Koman, which could see the lawyer extradited back to Indonesia to face court. An Indonesian police spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the notice had been issued. 

The Australian Federal Police does not comment on individual cases, but is not compelled to act on Interpol Red Notices.

For any extradition to occur, Australia’s attorney general has to recommend an arrest warrant be issued and the offence must be in the criminal code in both Australia and the country seeking extradition, according to the attorney general’s website. Exemptions to extradition are provided if the offence is considered “political”. 

Koman said her parents moved out of their house for a month earlier this year after they were visited by about 10 police officers looking for her. They were also spooked by the volume of vitriol directed at their daughter, she said.

“They keep begging me to stop (working on Papua) until today actually. They are really feeling intimidated.”

During her time in Australia, Koman has met with lawmakers and the U.N. high commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and has vowed to continue to advocate for West Papua.

“This uprising is actually not over yet,” she said. “This is something bigger than just about me or my family.”  

(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta; Writing by Tom Allard; Editing by Ed Davies and Lincoln Feast)

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