Marchio Irfan Gorbiano, Jakarta – Civil society groups have filed a lawsuit against President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration over the internet blackout imposed during the weeks of protests in Papua and West Papua last year, arguing that it was substantially and procedurally flawed.
The plaintiffs – the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) – specifically sued the President and the Communications and Information Ministry over the blackout, lodging the case with the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN).
They demanded the court declare that the internet blackout – which officials argued was to put in place to prevent hoaxes from spreading – was flawed in authority, substance and procedure, asking the panel of justices to order the government to refrain from imposing similar measures in the future and to pay the fees incurred by the case.
"The government's policy of imposing the internet blackout [...] is an act against the law [carried out] by a government body and/or government officials," the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit, which was read out by presiding judge Nelvy Christin during the first hearing of the case on Wednesday.
"The acts of the defendant were flawed in their authority, procedure and substance," the lawsuit proclaimed.
The government throttled back internet access in parts of the country's easternmost provinces on Aug. 19, 2019 between 1 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. local time, shortly after widespread protests escalated in the regions in response to incidents of racial abuse suffered by Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java.
According to the lawsuit, the government imposed a weeks-long blackout between Aug. 21 and Sept. 4, affecting 29 cities and regencies in Papua and 13 cities and regencies in West Papua.
"Due to the deeds of the defendants, journalists in Papua and West Papua could not do their daily jobs to fulfill the public's rights to information because of the lack of or limited internet access," Nelvy said, reading out the lawsuit.
AJI and SAFEnet said they considered the internet blackout to have violated stipulations set out in, among other pieces of legislation, Law No. 39/1999 on human rights and Law No. 40/1999 on the press.
For the defendants, only one legal representative from the Communications and Information Ministry attended the hearing on Wednesday.
The ministry argued that the government's decision to limit internet access in Papua and West Papua was done according to existing law and the principles of good governance.
The hearing was adjourned and is scheduled to resume on Jan. 29 when the judges are to hear arguments presented by a representative of President Jokowi.