Budi Sutrisno, Jakarta – Papua residents have raised more than Rp 773.8 million (US$51,900) to pay for the government-sponsored scholarship funding received by Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, who was recently asked to return the funds amid her advocacy for Papuans.
Ambrosius Mulait, a former political prisoner and a member of a group of Papuan people called the Ebamukai Solidarity Team, symbolically returned the money to the Finance Ministry's Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) on Wednesday afternoon.
He visited the LPDP's office in Central Jakarta with another former political prisoner, Dano Tabuni, while wearing traditional Papuan attire.
"The funds collected through voluntary donations from the Papuan people and from outside Papua since August have met the demand of the government," Ambrosius told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
The solidarity team had previously sent a letter to the Finance Ministry, he said. "We will hand over [the funds] symbolically in the form of around Rp 3 million. The remaining funds will be transferred," he said.
The fundraising efforts had taken place in several areas in Papua, including Jayapura, Nabire, Dogiyai and Wamena, where donors gathered in person, Ambrosius said.
Some photos made the rounds on social media showing Papua residents sitting in an open field with donated banknotes scattered on a mat.
He said Papuans from other regions and communities outside the province also helped contribute to the solidarity action, with many of them transferring money to the team. Each of them had donated from Rp 50,000 to Rp 2 million, he said.
However, the solidarity action in some areas did not go as smoothly as in other places, Ambrosius said. "Papuan donors in Jayapura and Nabire were disbanded by the authorities, while the solidarity action in Dogiyai and Wamena went well," he said.
Ambrosius said the Papuan people felt the need to help Veronica because of her continuous efforts in advocating for human rights issues and fighting against injustices in Papua.
"We have big concerns and care for Veronica. She is an Indonesian who gives a voice to Papua and has made a big contribution," he said.
Separately, Veronica said she was moved and grateful for the action carried out by the Papuan solidarity team and felt that her struggle was appreciated.
"I want everyone to remember that it means that my education is not financed by the Indonesian government but by the Papuan people," Veronica told the Post.
The Indonesian government asked Veronica to return scholarship money totaling Rp 773.8 million she received in September 2016 for her master's degree in law at the Australian National University.
The LPDP stated that the request was made because Veronica had failed to return home to Indonesia after her study, as required for scholarship awardees.
Veronica refuted the 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.
Veronica's lawyer Michael Hilman, who also accompanied Ambrosius and Dano to visit the LPDP's office on Wednesday, said earlier that Veronica had paid back Rp 64.5 million out of her own money but he hoped the fundraising could pay off the remaining funds demanded.