Geneva – Indonesia must protect the rights of all people to peaceful protest, ensure access to the internet and protect the rights of human rights defender Veronica Koman and all others reporting on protests in Papua and West Papua, say UN human rights experts*."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 experts said.
Veronica Koman, a lawyer who has been subjected to harassment and abuse online for her continuing work on alleged human rights violations in Papua, was named as a "suspect" by authorities who accused her of spreading of false information and provoking unrest after she published reports on the protests and on a racist attack against Papuan students in East Java that had triggered the demonstrations.
"We welcome actions taken by the Government against the racist incident, but we urge it to take immediate steps to protect Veronica Koman from any forms of retaliation and intimidation and drop all charges against her so that she can continue to report independently on the human rights situation in the country," they said.
The experts also expressed serious concerns over reports indicating that the authorities are considering revoking her passport, blocking her bank accounts and requesting Interpol to issue a Red Notice to locate her, as she is said to be out of the country.
The experts stressed that restrictions on freedom of expression not only undermined discussion of Government policies, but also jeopardised the safety of human rights defenders reporting on alleged violations.
Protests have been increasingly taking place in Papua and West Papua since mid-August over alleged racism and discrimination and amid calls for independence.
"These protests will not be stopped by an excessive use of force or by cracking down on freedom of expression and access to information," the UN experts said.
"We urge the Government of Indonesia to recognise the rights of all protesters and to ensure continuation of the internet service. We welcome the restoration on 4 September of the internet in almost all of Papua and West Papua provinces."
The internet had been disconnected completely on 21 August in various parts of both provinces on the grounds of restoring security and order, with the aim of preventing the spread of "rumours" or "hoaxes" during protests.
"Restrictions of the internet and on access to information in general have a detrimental impact on the ability of individuals to express themselves, and to share and receive information. On the other hand, access to the internet contributes to preventing disinformation and ensuring transparency and accountability," the experts said.
The UN experts have previously expressed their concerns to the Government of Indonesia and are continuing to urge it to engage in genuine dialogue with the protesters. The experts welcomed the engagement of the authorities on these matters and looked forward to continued dialogue.
Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule (Togo), Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Mr. David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms Dubravka Simonovic (Croatia), Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Ms Meskerem Geset Techane (Ethiopia), Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Mr. Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.