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Indonesian rights lawyer named suspect after sharing posts on Papua

Indonesian rights lawyer named suspect after sharing posts on Papua
FILE PHOTO: A burnt car is pictured after a riot in Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia, August 30, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Gusti Tanati/ via REUTERS/File Photo -
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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, drawing condemnation action from rights groups of 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 been using her Twitter account to share videos, photographs and comment on the situation in the easternmost region of Papua, which has in recent weeks suffered the most serious civil unrest in years 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 an already heavy military presence in a region that has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.

Among the deadliest of the sometimes violent protests in Papua was an incident in the rural town of Deiyai last week, although there have been conflicting accounts from authorities and activists.

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

Indonesia’s chief security minister on Wednesday said four civilians had been killed, while activists have claimed eight were killed.

An internet blackout across Papua has made verifying information difficult.

CHILLINGEFFECT

Koman could not immediately be reached for comment though 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 criticised U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

(Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Ed Davies and Robert Birsel)

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