Indonesia starts restoring internet access in Papua

6 September, 2019 12:00 AM printer

JAKARTA: Indonesia has started restoring internet access in restive Papua, which has been gripped by two weeks of mass protests sparked by anger over racism and fresh calls for self-rule, reports AFP.

A low-level insurgency against Indonesian control has simmered for decades in Papua, the country’s easternmost territory, and Jakarta has responded to the recent deadly riots by flooding the region with thousands of extra security personnel.  

It also blocked internet access to quell the unrest, and on Wednesday charged a high-profile rights lawyer over spreading online videos about deadly riots in the territory. The government said the block was intended to stop what it described as a flood of hoaxes and provocative comments about Papuans that were stoking unrest.

Late Wednesday, the government said it had started lifting the blockade — slammed by media and free speech advocates — in some 29 of 42 districts across the mountainous, jungle-covered region. “The security situation in some areas is recovering and the spread of fake news and provocative, hateful commentary related to Papua is also declining,” the communications ministry said.

“The government will keep monitoring developments in areas where data services are still blocked.”

On Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she was “disturbed” by the violence in Papua.

“I encourage the authorities to engage in dialogue with the people of Papua... on their aspirations and concerns, as well as to restore internet services and refrain from any excessive use of force,” she said in a statement.

Indonesia took control of the former Dutch colony in the 1960s after an independence vote widely seen as being rigged. Jakarta has refused to discuss fresh calls for an independence vote.

The majority of Papuans are Christian and ethnic Melanesian with few cultural ties to the rest of Muslim-majority Indonesia.

On Wednesday, authorities charged Veronica Koman, a lawyer and Papuan rights activist, for alleged incitement over a video she shared of the mid-August arrest and teargassing of dozens of Papuan students, who were also racially abused.