Freedom of speech in West Papua under threat – police presses charges against student for Facebook post on Sugapa Shooting

Members of the Cybercrime Unit of the Papua Regional Police (Polda Papua) arrested a twenty-eight-year-old Papuan student in the town of Nabire. Melianus Duwitau had allegedly uploaded a post on his Facebook account (account name: Mel PKN), in which he questioned the veracity of a public statement by the Polda Papua Chief, Paulus Waterpauw, regarding the recent shooting in the town of Sugapa, Intan Jaya Regency. Duwitau’s lawyers claim that the police officers failed to show a warrant at the time of arrest, as required under provisions of the Indonesian Criminal Procedure Code (KUHAP). The police pressed criminal charges against Duwitau for alleged violation of article 45A (2) in conjunction with article 28 (2) of Law No 19/2016 regarding changes of Law 11/2011 on Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE Law). The articles regulate the criminal offense of hate speech and carry a maximum penalty of six years imprisonment.

The post on the Mel PKN shows a picture of the Papuan Police Chief with the words “Papuan Police Chief Waterpauw should immediately take responsibility regarding the spreading of false news about Intan Jaya”. According to the post, Waterpauw had stated in interviews with multiple national media outlets that security forces killed two members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) during an armed clash on 26 January 2020 in Suagapa. The post alleges that the police chief attempted to twist the facts. The Papuan online media outlet ‘Suara Papua’ and human rights defenders claim that TNI members allegedly shot dead a motorcycle taxi driver and injured two other civilians during the shooting - among them an eight-year-old boy.


The Indonesian NGO SAFEnet published a report in 2019 on media freedom and freedom of information in Indonesia. SAFEnet noticed a significant raise in the use of the ITE Law, indicating a shrinking space for the freedom of expression throughout 2018. Data by the supreme court counted 292 court rulings on violation of ITE Law in 2018 in comparison to only 140 of such rulings in 2017. Moreover, the supreme court counted 276 criminal cases under violation of the ITE Law in 2018. Forty-five percent of them used the article 27, paragraph 3 on defamation and 22% of the cases using article 28 paragraph 2 on hate speech. Forty-four percent of the lawsuits were initiated by Government officials, using various articles of the ITE Law. The most targeted victims of criminalisation throughout 2018 were journalists and media outlets, with 32% of the documented cases. Other identified risk groups were activists and teachers or lecturers.