Asia-Pacific

Australia does not rule out handing over human rights lawyer to Indonesia

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Australia has not ruled out acting on a Interpol red notice threatened against an Indonesian human rights lawyer amid political unrest in West Papua.

Australia has refused to rule out handing over a well-respected human rights lawyer, who specialises in West Papuan matters, to Indonesian authorities.

Veronica Koman is being threatened with an Interpol red notice, which is due to be issued Wednesday, if she doesn’t turn herself in to an Indonesian embassy in Australia.

The human rights lawyer, in hiding in Australia, is being pursued by Indonesia for disseminating evidence of security forces carrying out violence in the troubled provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Human Rights Lawyer Veronica Koman speaks with SBS News.
Human Rights Lawyer Veronica Koman speaks with SBS News.
SBS News

The move has outraged human rights groups across the world and drawn criticism from a group of UN experts.

Human Rights Lawyer Jennifer Robinson told SBS News Ms Koman is being targeted by Indonesian authorities over her work for West Papuan activists.

"This is a human rights lawyer who has been defending West Papuan dissidents, she is now being prosecuted by Indonesia - that is an outrage. And the Australian government should have nothing to do with it,” Ms Robinson said. 

Julian Assange's London-based lawyer Jennifer Robinson speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Julian Assange's London-based lawyer Jennifer Robinson speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

Australian authorities have not ruled out acting on an Interpol red notice. 

When asked if the Australian Federal Police (AFP) would take action on such a request, a spokesperson said it could not comment on the matter:

"INTERPOL’s Constitution prohibits progressing matters of a Political, Religious, Military or Racial nature," the statement said.

"Each enquiry is considered and assessed on its merits and the information available."

A Red Notice is a request to worldwide law enforcement agencies to locate and provisionally arrest a person, pending extradition to the country issuing the notice.

When contacted by SBS News, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade directed inquires on this matter to the AFP - but has previously said it is "closely monitoring" civil unrest in the region.  

Several people have reportedly died and dozens have been injured in independence protests against Indonesia's control of the region.

'International outrage'

Ms Robinson said now is the time for Australia to speak up about what’s going on in West Papua.

"Australia has for far too long been silent on the issue of West Papua and the human rights abuse there. This is a case which is one deserving of their attention," she said.

"It would be wrong for Australia to act upon an Interpol notice which has raised international outrage and is in complete breach of Indonesia's and in fact Australia's free speech protections.”

Ms Robinson added that if Indonesia continues to pursue Ms Koman, the Interpol red notice will be challenged, citing rule changes made after lobbying against its targeting of a West Papuan activist.

"It was because of Indonesia's abuse of the system against Benny Wenda, the leader in exile of the West Papuan movement, that Interpol as a result of us successfully challenging his warrant has entirely changed the system so that we can bring challenges based on humans rights grounds."

More evidence has come to light of alleged human rights abuses in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

26-year-old West Papuan independence advocate, Sam Lokon, died on Monday in the Papuan capital, Jayapura.

It followed months of imprisonment in an Indonesian jail where it’s alleged he was beaten and tortured with a snake. 

Earlier this year a video showing another Papuan prisoner being interrogated by Indonesian authorities with a snake, went viral after it was circulated online.

Mr Lokon’s lawyer, Veronica Koman, has previously said her client was arrested in January on fabricated charges.

Victor Yeimo of the West Papua National Committee
Victor Yeimo of the West Papua National Committee
Supplied

Member of the West Papua National Committee Victor Yeimo said snakes are commonly used by Indonesian police against Papuans during interrogations.

"This is how Indonesia try to criminalise them with the force of the snake," he said.

“For us, too many of our friends are being killed by torture by the Indonesian police. We feel that we are very lost after one of the energetic activists, energetic friends.”

Mr Yeimo said his 26-year-old friend died at home after his health had deteriorated during his months in custody.

"Our feeling is very sad because Sam, not only Sam but too many friends already dead under this treatment, the torture." Mr Yeimo said.

West Papuans have long claimed they've been subject to what they call a ‘slow genocide.’

Indonesia has previously rejected those accusations as "groundless".

A UN panel called for an immediate response from Indonesian authorities.

"We call for immediate measures to ensure the protection of freedom of expression and address acts of harassment, intimidation, interference, undue restriction and threats against those reporting on the protests,” the panel said in a statement.

An increased military presence remains in Papua and West Papua, while the Indonesia government has repeatedly rejected an independence referendum for the region, which is home to world's largest gold mine.

Papuan activists scuffle with police and soldiers during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, 22 August 2019.
Papuan activists scuffle with police and soldiers during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, 22 August 2019.
AAP

Dr Siobhan McDonnell, who is a lawyer and anthropologist at The Australian National University, said the mineral wealth in the provinces means the region is extremely valuable to the Indonesian government.

She said the Indonesian government holds a majority stake in the Freeport/Grasberg mine, which is estimated to have a mineral wealth of $190-billion.

"It's the single major revenue earner for the Indonesian state." Dr McDonnell said.

"West Papua is incredibly resource-rich, the first agreement with Freeport, with the major gold and copper mine, it's the largest gold mine in the world, was signed in 1967."

 Freeport gold mine in Papua province.
Freeport gold mine in Papua province.
ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY

She said this predated a disputed referendum held in the Papua provinces, known as the Act of Free Choice.

"The referendum which really wasn't free at all, 1022 men gathered together at gun-point voted in favour of Indonesia holding on the West Papua."

But Dr McDonnell said despite the mineral wealth in the provinces, West Papuans are among the poorest in Indonesia.

“Even by Indonesian government reckoning, they are the poorest province in Indonesia, they have the poorest life expectancy, they have the worst rates of infant mortality, they have the poorest access to services and infrastructure."

West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.
West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.
Supplied

The exiled West Papuan leader, Benny Wenda has called on the mining operations in the region to be stopped, in a stand against the human rights abuses.

"The multi-national companies operating in West Papua like BP and Rio Tinto need to recognise the human rights situation and recognise they are operating in the middle of a genocide," Mr Wenda said.

A spokesperson for the Freeport mining operation told the Financial Times they don't tolerate violations of human rights.

“We do not tolerate human rights abuses at our operations. We also do not condone any form of violence against those who peacefully promote human rights."

In a statement, BP said: “We’re proud of our operations, track record and relationships with the local communities. More than half of our workforce in Tangguh is Papuan.”

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