Indonesia restores internet access in parts of West Papua

Internet blackout remains in Jayapura and Manokwari as well as Deiyai, where deadly protests were reported last week.

West Papua
Authorities and activists have given different accounts of the protests in West Papua and the internet blackout has made verifying information difficult [Hatta IT/EPA]

Indonesia has partially lifted an internet blackout imposed following civil unrest in the country’s easternmost region of West Papua, but is yet to restore access in areas where the most violent protests erupted, a government statement said.

The region of West Papua has suffered the most serious civil unrest in years since mid-August over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination.

Some protesters have also demanded an independence referendum, something the government in Jakarta has ruled out.

About 6,000 police and military personnel have been flown to West Papua, reinforcing a heavy military presence in a region that has endured decades of rumbling conflict between the armed forces and pro-independence rebels.

The government had slowed internet speeds in the region for a few days before cutting off access entirely in the region’s two provinces from August 21.

Late on Wednesday, the communications ministry said in a statement it had restored internet and data access for most parts of West Papua except for certain places, where it would continue to monitor the situation in the coming days.

The decision was taken because the security situation in those areas had “normalised” while “the spread of hoax information, lies, expressions of hatred, provocations related to Papuan issues, had begun to decline,” it said in a statement.

The government had maintained the internet blackout in places where protesters torched buildings, such as Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, and Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province.

The shutdown also continued in some rural towns, including Deiyai, where some civilians were reported to have been killed during a clash between security forces and protesters last week.

‘Address West Papua issues’

Authorities and activists have given different accounts on the incident and the internet blackout has made it difficult to verify the information.

Indonesian authorities have accused Benny Wenda, the chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, of orchestrating the unrest in the region.

Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told media that diplomatic channels would be used to hold Wenda accountable. A spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

Wenda, who lives in exile in Britain, was quoted in the media as saying the Indonesian government should focus on resolving the Papuan issue rather than making accusations against him.

Police have also named a prominent human rights lawyer and activist, Veronica Koman, a suspect in connection with her Twitter posts about an incident that triggered the unrest.

The protests followed racist slurs against Papuan students, whose dormitory was tear-gassed during their detention in the city of Surabaya on Java island on August 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag.

Several indigenous Papuan students in Jakarta, who were accused of treason for their protests, have been arrested.

Police have also identified two people suspected of hate speech from the Surabaya incident, who were in a crowd that mobbed the Papuan student dormitory.

Two military personnel are also being investigated for their involvement in the incident, while three others have been suspended.

Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony and incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969.

Source: Reuters