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Jakarta Post

Groups initiate fundraiser to support Veronica Koman following demand to return her scholarship money

  • Nina Loasana

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, August 14, 2020   /   08:30 am
Groups initiate fundraiser to support Veronica Koman following demand to return her scholarship money Veronica Koman in this undated file photo. (Courtesy/ACFID)

Civil society group Papua Itu Kita (Papua Is Us) and Jayapura-based publication Jubi have initiated a fundraising movement to support Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman who was recently asked to return government-sponsored scholarship funding for her studies in Australia.

"Papua residents initiated the fundraising because they feel thankful to Veronica who has been a vocal advocate for human rights issues in Papua. They want to help her too," Veronica's lawyer Michael Hilman told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Veronica was asked 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 to enable her to study for a master’s degree in law at the Australian National University.

Hilman said Veronica had paid back Rp 64.5 million out of the Rp 773.8 million scholarship from her own money but he hoped the fundraising could pay off the remaining funds demanded.

He said Veronica was aware of the initiative, which was started on Aug. 11, and fully supported it.

On Tuesday, Veronica, who is currently residing in Australia, posted a statement claiming that the Indonesian government had forced her to return the scholarship money as a form of "financial punishment" for her activism in advocating for human rights in Papua and West Papua.

She also posted on social media on Wednesday that the classes she took in her postgraduate study and all of her essays she wrote were on human rights advocacy in Papua.

"However, the Indonesian government regards my dedication to Papua as [a form of] treason because it has never considered Papua a part of NKRI [the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia]. I'm gladly willing to be abandoned by Indonesia. Hand me to Papua, we have pride too," she wrote

In a written statement on Thursday, the LPDP, which is under the coordination of the Finance Ministry, stated that the request to refund the scholarship was made because Veronica had failed to return home to Indonesia after her studies.

Veronica had previously refuted LPDP's claims saying that she returned to Indonesia to join the Jayapura-based Human Rights Lawyers Association for Papua (PAHAM Papua) in 2018 and she also gave pro-bono legal services to Papuan activists in three separate trials in Timika, Papua, from April to May 2019.

However, the LPDP claimed that Veronica had not yet graduated when she returned to the country.

"VKL graduated in July 2019 and registered her graduation on the LPDP system in September 2019. VKL returned to Indonesia in 2018 when she had not yet finished her studies so she did not return as an alumnus but as an ongoing awardee. Thus, her return cannot be regarded as the fulfilment of her alumnus obligations," the LPDP stated, referring to Veronica by her initials.

Social media users have questioned the LPDP decision saying that many awardees had not returned to the country after their studies but faced no consequences.

"My friend returned to Indonesia, but he received a [job] offer from abroad. He has been working there ever since. No sanctions, nobody is looking for him either," user @leavesomeday tweeted.

Siska, a 2016 LPDP awardee in the United Kingdom also claimed fellow awardees had not returned to Indonesia after finishing their studies.

"A friend of mine who studied at the same university as me in the UK has not returned to Indonesia. He is currently working for a private company in the UK," she told Tempo.co.

Another awardee, she said, had got a job in the US before completing her three years’ obligatory work in Indonesia.