Bangkok, August 22, 2019—Indonesian authorities should immediately restore internet access to the provinces of Papua and West Papua and refrain from imposing any restrictions on journalists covering civil unrest in the region, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology said it would “temporarily block” the “telecommunications data service” in both provinces beginning on August 21 in order to “accelerate the process of security and order,” according to Al-Jazeera, Agence France-Presse and a statement published on the ministry’s website. Information Minister Rudiantara told Al-Jazeera that phone and text message services were unaffected. Rudiantara goes by one name.
“Indonesia’s internet shutdown aims to block the free flow of information in a region notorious for state-sponsored rights abuses,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities should lift the order and allow journalists to freely report on Papua’s unrest and the government’s response.”
The shutdown comes amid a surge in civil unrest in West Papua, sparked in response to the arrest and alleged mistreatment of Papuan students by police in the East Java town of Surabaya, according to the U.K. Independent newspaper. News reports citing ministry officials said authorities had reined in internet speeds in parts of the region since August 19 to prevent the spread of “hoaxes” and provocative messages.
Local journalists quoted by Al-Jazeera said the internet shutdown was inhibiting their ability to send pictures and videos to their news desks, and verify news and information in the region. The journalists were relying on expensive private Wi-Fi networks, according to the Al Jazeera report. The Independent noted that the shutdown coincided with the deployment of more than 1,000 troops to the restive region.
The block on connectivity will remain in place “until the situation in Papua returned to being conducive and normal,” the statement from the communications ministry said. CPJ’s calls to the ministry for comment were not answered.
Foreign journalists are regularly denied permits needed to report from West Papua and Papua provinces, resulting in a virtual blackout of international news coverage from the restive region, CPJ has found. United Nations investigators and human rights groups have documented widespread abuses perpetrated by security forces in the long-running conflict. President Joko Widodo announced in May 2015 that his government would allow foreign reporters to report and travel freely in Papua but the restrictions have remained since then, CPJ reporting shows.