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Jakarta Post

Veronica Koman pleads for justice as she is forced to return state-sponsored scholarship

  • Tri Indah Oktavianti

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, August 12, 2020   /   08:48 am
Veronica Koman pleads for justice as she is forced to return state-sponsored scholarship Veronica Koman (Courtesy/ACFID)

With accusations mounting against her, Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman has said she is being forced to return hundreds of millions of rupiah of government-sponsored scholarship in what she claims is a move to financially punish her as she pleads for Finance Minister Sri Mulyani's impartiality in handling her case.

Veronica, who is currently residing in Australia, said she was forced to return scholarship money totaling Rp 773.8 million (US$52,760) from the Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) that she received in September 2016.

“The Indonesian government has imposed a financial punishment as its latest effort to pressure me to stop advocating human rights issues in Papua,” Veronica said in a statement obtained by The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The public lawyer was a recipient of a scholarship program run under the Finance Ministry that supported her to pursue a master's of law at the Australian National University.

She said the request was made by the LPDP due to her failure to return home to Indonesia after her studies. A claim she said was baseless as she returned home in September 2018 after completing her master’s degree.

Read also: Rights activist urges Australia to raise Papua rights violations during Jokowi visit

She explained that in October 2018, she joined the Jayapura-based Human Rights Lawyers Association for Papua (PAHAM Papua), in which she carried out advocacy for human rights issues in the country’s easternmost province. Veronica also said she went to Switzerland to attend an agenda with the United Nations in March and returned to Indonesia right after.

Furthermore, the former public attorney for the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) said she gave a pro-bono legal service to Papuan activists in three separate trials in Timika, Papua from April to May 2019.

She then traveled back to Australia on a three-month visa to attend her graduation ceremony in July 2019. A month later, she was alerted that she had been summoned by the National Police and put on their wanted list.

“The ministry has ignored the fact that I have returned to Indonesia and dismissed my willingness to return home if I had never received any threats that could endanger my safety,” Veronica said.

She called for Finance Minister Sri Mulyani to be impartial in dealing with the issue.

“So that [the ministry] does not become a state institution that wants to punish me due to my capacity as a public lawyer that defends human rights in Papua,” she said.

Read also: She tweeted about the attack on Papuan students. Now, she is state enemy No. 1

The LPDP’s executive director Rionald Silaban, however, defended the program’s decision claiming that Veronika had refused to go back to Indonesia after finishing her study even after the committee had asked her to do so.

“It is true that we have demanded that Veronica Koman Liau return all the scholarship money that we granted to her because it was written in the contract that the scholarship grantee studying abroad must return to Indonesia soon after the study is finished,” he told the Post.

Veronica, who is a lawyer for the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), was named a suspect by the East Java Police in September for allegedly violating four different laws, including the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, by reportedly encouraging Papuans and West Papuans to riot.

She was one of the activists that had been vocal in expressing disagreement against the government’s decision to temporarily shut down internet service in the restive region amid a string of protests and riots following the racially charged incident in Surabaya. Her tweets had been the only source of information regarding the protests that broke out in Papua and West Papua during the internet blackout.

During that time, she said that not only did she receive death and rape threats, but she also became a target for online disinformation.