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Indonesian rights lawyer named suspect after sharing posts on Papua

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police on Wednesday named a prominent human rights lawyer and activist a suspect in connection with Twitter posts about an incident that triggered unrest in Papua, prompting rights groups to condemn the police action.

Lawyer Veronica Koman is accused of intentionally spreading information via her Twitter account that could lead to hatred based on ethnicity, religion, race or groups, Frans Barung Mangera, a spokesman for East Java police, said by telephone.

She could be jailed for up to six years and fined 1 billion rupiah ($70,000) under an electronic information and transactions law if found guilty.

Koman has used her Twitter account to share videos, photographs and comment on the situation in the easternmost region of Papua, where the most serious civil unrest in years has erupted over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination.

The protests were triggered by racist slurs against Papuan students, whose dormitory was tear gassed during their detention in the city of Surabaya on Java island on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag.

The case against Koman is based on a video of the Surabaya incident she posted on Twitter on Aug. 17, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told Reuters, without giving details.

Koman posted two videos on Twitter of the incident.

About 6,000 police and military personnel have been flown in to Papua, reinforcing a heavy military presence in a region that has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.

One of the deadliest incidents was in the rural town of Deiyai last week, although there have been conflicting accounts from authorities and activists.

Papuan police spokesman Ahmad Kamal said on Monday at least one soldier and five civilians were killed.

Indonesia’s chief security minister on Wednesday said four civilians were killed, while activists said eight died.

In another incident on Monday, five gold miners in the Papuan highlands were killed by a group of residents from Yahukimo armed with machetes, as well as bows and arrows, national police spokesman Prasetyo said on Wednesday.

Police evacuated 74 miners from the area, he said, but it was not clear if the attack was linked to the wider unrest.

An internet blackout across Papua has made verifying information difficult.


Koman could not be reached for comment, but she reposted a tweet by another user about her being named a suspect.

In her last original post on Twitter sent on Tuesday she said: “68 protesters across West Papua have been charged for damaging property. No one has been charged for injuring or taking the lives of West Papuans these past 2 weeks”.

Amnesty International Indonesia urged the police to drop the case against Koman, saying she did not advocate hate regardless of whether the information she shared was accurate.

“Naming her a suspect could create a chilling effect for anyone who wishes to unveil information or allegations of human rights abuses in Papua,” Amnesty researcher Papang Hidayat said.

Police have also identified two people suspected of hate speech from the Surabaya incident, who were in a crowd that mobbed the Papuan student dormitory. Two military personnel are also being investigated for their involvement in the incident.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Indonesia to engage in dialogue with Papuan people on their aspirations and concerns, restore internet services in Papua and refrain from any excessive use of force.

Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

Reporting by Jakarta bureau; writing by Ed Davies; editing by Robert Birsel and Darren Schuettler