Indonesia restores Internet access in parts of restive Papua region

Indonesian activists hold protests posters during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug 23, 2019.
Indonesian activists hold protests posters during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug 23, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia has partially lifted an Internet blackout imposed following civil unrest in the country's easternmost region of Papua, but is yet to restore access in areas where the most violent protests erupted, a government statement said.

The region of 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 Jakarta has ruled out.

About 6,000 police and military personnel have been flown in to Papua, reinforcing a heavy military presence in a region that has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.

The government had throttled Internet speeds in the region for a few days before cutting off access entirely in the two provinces in the region from Aug 21.

Late on Wednesday (Sept 4), the communications ministry said in a statement that it had restored Internet and data access for most parts of Papua except for certain places, where it would continue to monitor the situation in 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 the capital of Papua province Jayapura and the capital of West Papua province of Manokwari.

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


The authorities and activists have given different accounts of the incident, and the Internet blackout has made verifying information difficult.

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

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

Mr Wenda, who resides 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 prominent human rights lawyer and activist Veronica Koman as 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 for allegedly desecrating a national flag, in the city of Surabaya on Java island on Aug 17, Indonesia's Independence Day.

Several 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 officers 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 that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969.