SAFEnet suspects internet disruptions in West Papua are deliberate

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The South-East Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) affirms that the internet disruptions seem to co-relate with security-related incidents in West Papua over the past year. The internet in the regencies Jayapura and Sarmi has been dysfunctional since 30 April as the violent conflict in the central highlands gained new tension after the West Papua National Liberation Army killed the Papuan Intelligence Chief. Vice President of Corporate Communications of telecommunications company PT Telkom, Pujo Pramono, declared that the disconnection of a submarine cable was responsible for the disruption. The connection will be fully recovered in the first week of June 2021, said Pramono.

According to SAFEnet, the internet breakdown was preceded by a series of digital attacks against multiple activists and journalists in Jayapura. The Papuan news outlet Jubi reported doxing attacks against them. At the same time, other observers independently confirmed the dissemination of mysterious SMS in support of the special autonomy and attempts to enter group chats on the messaging application Telegram. Doxing is the act of publicly revealing private personal information about an individual or organisation, usually through the Internet.

SAFEnet compared the recent internet disruption with past internet breakdowns in 2019 and 2020. Throughout 2020, SAFEnet received four reports of alleged internet slowdowns, also known as throttling, in West Papua. According to SAFEnet Director Damar Juniarto, in July 2020, Internet and cell phone signals were turned off as the conflict situation in Nduga and Maybrat intensified. On 15 August 2020, the internet was reportedly slowed down ahead of the first anniversary of the Uprising, a series of protests against the racial discrimination of ethnic Papuans and for self-determination in 23 towns across West Papua and 17 cities in Indonesia between 19 August and 30 September 2019.

Previously, the Government had throttled the internet in West Papua between 21 August and 4 September 2019. In early December 2019, a team of lawyers representing multiple Indonesian NGOs filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of the State Secretary and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to the Jakarta State Administrative Court. The NGOs claimed that the Government institutions shut down the internet without a legal foundation. The Indonesian government had justified the blockage to avoid the spreading of false news, which could lead to a further escalation of the riots.

On 3 June 2020, the panel of judges at the Jakarta State Administrative Court ruled that the internet ban imposed by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and the Minister for Communication and Informatics was against the principle of governance.