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Internet cuts in West Papua 'repressive' - rights groups

Radio New Zealand - August 27, 2019

Rights groups say an internet blackout in Indonesia's West Papua marks a dangerous violation of free speech protections. The restrictions were imposed by Indonesia earlier this month as protests escalated in response to racism toward Papuans.

Mackenzie Smith reports.

As demonstrations across Papua enter their second week, thousands turned out on Monday in several of the region's biggest centres.In Paniai regency, a video posted by human rights lawyer Veronica Koman showed hundreds performing a waita dance and shouting "Free Papua".

But elsewhere, the flow of information has slowed to a trickle, after the government cut internet access Papua last Wednesday.

The editor of local newspaper Tabloid Jubi, Victor Mambor, says the blockage has made getting information out of the region hard.

"When we talk about journalism, to send the real true situation about West Papua. But now we cannot do it. There's many information from the road. They send it to me, but we cannot clarify or cannot verify the information. There is a problem for journalism."

Mr Mambor this week took a complaint over the internet restrictions to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.

Indonesia argues its measure is necessary to prevent the spread of fake news which could trigger more violence. But rights groups say the internet is being used as a tool of repression.

Amnesty International describes the blackout as an "appalling attack" on free speech. The executive director of free speech group SAFEnet, Damar Juniarto, says reporters aren't the only people being affected.

"There is a lot of students in Papua that are using long-distance learning using the internet, they cannot do study. And a lot of businesses like tourism that cannot get a payment from the Airbnb. And also people who need help from the hospital."

New Zealand MP Golriz Ghahraman says internet blocks often pre-empt grave brutality by states.

"We need to notice that of people are being cut off from communicating with the rest of the world that abuses against them can then happen sort of in the dead of night, so to speak, and we won't know and that is scary."

Hundreds of police reinforcements have been flown into Papua since the unrest began last week.

The demonstrations began after a group of Papuan students in the Javanese city of Surabaya were called monkeys, tear-gassed and then arrested.

A military spokesperson told Reuters on Monday that five soldiers are being investigated over the incident.

But journalist Viktor Mambor says the government is letting the incident slide by prioritising an internet cut.

"I think it's a kind of discrimination against West Papuan people. They (authorities) should look for perpetrators who say 'monkey' to our people. They should arrest them not block the internet."

Meanwhile, conflict in Papua's central highlands – another trigger behind the recent tensions – has once again broken out.

Activists and local media said on Monday a fresh military and police operation in Puncak regency had displaced more than 800 Papuans.

Source: https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/2018710625/internet-cuts-in-west-papua-repressive-rights-groups