Lawyer Koman calls for inquiry into tragic death of health worker in Papua

Veronica Koman
Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman with Asia Pacific Report editor David Robie at a media freedom conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2017. Image: Bernard Agape/APR

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

Papua human rights activist and lawyer Veronica Koman has called for an independent inquiry into the attack on health workers in the Kiwirok district, Star Highlands, Papua, saying there are two versions of how the tragedy happened.

A healthcare worker, 22-year-old Gabriella Maelani, was killed during the attack by the West Papua National Liberation Army-Free Papua Organisation (TPNPB-OPM) resistance movement.

“There is one version which is clearly being shared a lot in the media. And there is a second version circulating among the Papuan people,” Koman told CNN Indonesia.

Koman said that the chronology of events which was being broadcast by most news media depicted the alleged brutality of the TPNPB-OPM during the attack.

In the second version alleged the attack was triggered when a person wearing a doctor’s uniform shot at the TPNPB, causing a shootout inside the healthcare building, Koman said.

She said that in Papua many TNI (Indonesian military) personnel held dual posts as teachers and doctors. She believed this caused a great deal of suspicion in Papua.

Nevertheless, she was saddened by the news that a healthcare worker died, although she said that the truth about the chronology of events must still be investigated.

Death of healthcare worker
Based on information she had received, the death of the healthcare worker was not because they were tortured by the TPNPB as alleged.

“The Papuan people’s version is that it’s not true that there was torture. Gabriella jumped [into a ravine] while escaping, she wasn’t thrown into the ravine by the OPM,” she said.

Koman called for an independent investigation. According to Koman, finding out which chronology was correct would influence several factors, particularly racism against the Papuan people.

“If for example the alleged barbaric actions are not true, it will influence the stigma and racism against the Papuan people. And that is very barbaric,” she said.

“Looking for examples of human rights issues, we can separate it. The ones adversely affected should be the OPM, not the ordinary Papuan people.

“In general with minority groups, including the Chinese, when one person does wrong, everyone is adversely affected. LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] for example, if a gay person does something, the whole community is adversely affected. So it’s important to straighten it out.”

Koman also said care was needed to be taken with the witness testimonies.

Information under duress
She questioned whether or not the witnesses provided information under duress.

“There would have been many soldiers around them … So they could have been pressured,” she said.

Earlier, the TPNPB-OPM admitted responsibility for attacking public facilities such as a community healthcare centre and school building in the Kiwirok district on September 13 and 14.

They claimed that the attack was a form of resistance demanding Papuan independence from Indonesia.

The Presidential Staff Office said that “armed criminal groups” (KKB) — as officials generally describe Papuan armed independence fighters — violated human rights law after the healthcare worker died during the attack on September 13.

Presidential Staff Deputy V Jaleswari Pramodhawardani said that the armed group had violated several laws such as the healthcare law, the nurses law, the hospital law and the healthcare quarantine law.

Translated by James Balowski for IndoLeft News. The original title of the article was “Veronica Koman Klaim Ada 2 Versi Penembakan Nakes di Papua”.

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