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Internet suspended in Indonesia’s Papua region for ‘security and order’ amid protests

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Indonesia has temporarily blocked internet services in Papua and surrounding areas on August 21, to restore “security and order” amidst the ongoing protests in West Papua. On August 23, the Indonesia Ministry of Communications and IT said that the internet services will continue to remain blocked until the situation in Papua returns to normal. The internet speed was reduced prior to the blackout. Telephone calls and text messages have not been blocked. It is unclear whether the internet suspension has been lifted. According to a Guardian report from August 26, internet services may remain suspended for another week to prevent the spread of “fake news”.

Protests in Papua began in mid-August when Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, were allegedly mistreated by police and also abused racially. According to media reports, the protests took place in Jakarta, Bali, Papuan towns of Jayapura, Timika, Sarong and Fakfak. Around 1200 polices have been deployed to control the crowd who allegedly set markets ablaze and destroyed shops.

“To speed up the process of restoring the security and order situation in Papua and West Papua, the Ministry of Communication and Information once again urged citizens throughout the country not to participate in distributing and transmitting electronic information that is still in doubt or that is indicated by hoax or incitement that can cause hatred and animosity based on ethnic groups, religion, race and class,” the statement on August 23 noted.

Indonesia’s had earlier placed a 3-day curb on social media following Indonesian elections in May 2019 to prevent the spread of hoaxes. The restrictions prevented people from uploading videos and photos on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Data during the restrictions showed that internet providers imposed a “sophisticated censorship filtering regime” in place countrywide. While photo and video uploads were blocked, API, backend, and basic features were intentionally left functional. A day after the ban was lifted, Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara asked the Indonesian people to uninstall VPN services from their devices, “to avoid the risk of monitoring, collection and piracy of their personal data”.

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Journalists face trouble due to blackout

According to The Guardian, while the government claimed to block the internet for restricting the spread of fake news, Papuan activists said that the move would “restrict the flow of information, at a time of unrest”. Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) has said that internet blackout is preventing the rights of the media to obtain information and report about the events.

According to a report by Jakarta Post, Victor Mambor, a West Papuan journalist for the publication, claimed to have faced harassment for reporting on the internet blackout. AJI Indonesia said that Victor became a victim of “doxing” by a Twitter handle @antilalat. According to the report, UK-based law firm Doughty Street Chambers had also said that Mambor had also filed an urgent appeal with UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye about the internet blackout in the region.

Internet shutdowns in India

As of August 2019, India has recorded experienced 76 internet shutdowns this year. 2019, according to SFLC’s internet shutdown tracker. It is worth noting that the actual number of internet shutdowns is in all likelihood much higher, since shutdowns are ordered by district officials, and news of internet suspensions doesn’t always become public knowledge, as seen in the case of Rajasthan.

Shutdowns on the rise

  • Between January 2012-July 2019, there have been a total of 337 reported cases of internet shutdowns in India.
  • In 2018, there were reported 134 internet shutdowns, as opposed to the 79 Internet shutdowns in 2017, and just 6 internet shutdowns in 2014.

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