Government imposes internet blockade after anti-racism riots in West Papua

The Government has blocked the internet in the Provinces of Papua and Papua Barat since 19 August 2019 after large scale demonstrations and several riots in multiple Papuan cities. The blockade was finally eased on 5 September 2019, after the Government assessed that the situation in West Papua had 'calmed down'. The rallies were carried out in response to acts of racial discrimination against Papuan students in the Javanese cities of Malang, Surabaya and Semarang in mid-August. The Government justified the measure, arguing that the blockade would prevent the spreading of false information and assist law enforcement personnel to calm down ongoing tensions. The head of the Papuan branch of Indonesian telecommunication provider PT. Telkom Indonesia, Mr. Charles Aronggear, confirmed that the internet restrictions were imposed by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. He stated in an interview on 26 August 2019 that it is not clear when the restrictions will be lifted again.

The Association of Independent Journalists (AJI) criticised the government for the information blockade. Such measures would be contrary to the spirit of the freedom to seek, receive and convey information as expressed in the international human rights treaties and article 28F of the Indonesian 1945 constitution. The internet blockade prevents Papuan people of finding true information. The policy hampers communication with relatives and impedes the work of journalists and human rights defenders monitoring events in West Papua.

Less than a month ago, eight leading members of the UK’s parliamentary upper-chamber condemned Indonesia’s ongoing restrictions on press freedom in West Papua in a letter, published in the newspaper ‘The Guardian’ on 22 July 2019. The parliamentarians criticized the Government for the yet-unfulfilled request by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to allow members of his office to visit West Papua and the attempt to control the flow of information from West Papua to the outside world, while human rights violations continue to be reported from Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua and Papua Barat.

West Papua remains a restricted area for foreign journalists. They are required to obtain a permit for media coverage through the Clearing House procedure, a lengthy bureaucratic procedure which is mandatory for foreign journalists intending to cover in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and Papua Barat. The Government has recently decided to commemorate the National Press Day (Hari Pers Nasional) 2020 in the province of Papua. The Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Wiranto, has also planned to invite international journalists to the event. The Association of Independent Journalists (AJI) welcomed the idea but also expressed concerns that the Government may use the presence of foreign journalists to misrepresent West Papua as being freely accessible to foreign journalists and observers.