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Papuan internet lawsuit intended to push for good governance: Civil groups

Jakarta Post - June 5, 2020

Alya Nurbaiti, Jakarta – The lawsuit against President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's decision to cut off the internet in Papua and West Papua during antiracism protests in the two provinces last year was meant to be a call for better policies in the future, the suit's plaintiffs have said.

The plaintiffs, which include the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) and the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers), said they hoped the government would respect the court's ruling.

The Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) ruled on Wednesday that the government had unlawfully shut down the internet in the two provinces during heightened security tensions caused by waves of protests in August and September of last year.

"We don't want to attack the government nor disrupt the nation. We want good governance. The government should listen to us and obey the court's ruling," Muhammad Isnur of YLBHI said during a press briefing on Thursday.

He suggested the government apologize to the public, even though the plaintiffs' demands for such a public apology had been dropped from the lawsuit.

"[Apologizing] is an ethical matter. We dropped the demand from the lawsuit because the judges said it was not within their authority to grant it," Isnur added.

The court found that the government had violated the 1959 State Emergency Law by imposing the internet blackout after it failed to prove during a court hearing that the country was in a state of emergency. Proving such a situation would have enabled the government to shut down the internet legally.

The petitioners said the lawsuit was their last resort after the government ignored several letters and petitions to cancel the blackout.

The government initially argued that the internet shutdown was imposed to prevent the spread of hoaxes and other false information during the antiracism protests.

"The policy, however, only disadvantaged the public as their access to information was limited. It is a violation of human rights," Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) deputy director Andi Muttaqien said.

He added that the shutdown had hit several areas, including education and the economy, as journalists were unable to work without access to communication technology.

Papuans were also unaware that the government had punished some of the people who had harassed and assaulted Papuan students during an incident in Surabaya, East Java, in August 2019. These acts had prompted the protests, and therefore, the shutdown had likely exacerbated tensions.

Activists argued that the government's justification of the shutdown as an attempt to prevent the spread of hoaxes could not be verified because it had never reported the number of hoaxes that had spread during the protests.

Although the court's decision did not carry legal sanctions, Abdul Manan of the AJI said the ruling declaring that the government had violated the law was a serious admonition not to repeat the mistake.

Authorities introduced internet restrictions for the first time as a security measure during postelection riots in Jakarta in May of last year.

"Nobody sued the government at that time and such a policy of blocking the internet recurred in August," Abdul said. "If the government commits such unlawful acts again in the future, it means they are publicly declaring their violation of the Constitution, even though they are sworn to obey and follow it."

Isnur said the ruling would serve as a good precedent that would hopefully encourage the public to bring the government to the PTUN for any unlawful acts, as stipulated in a 2019 Supreme Court Regulation on unlawful government acts.

The plaintiffs lauded the court for considering access to the internet a human right. "This is an extraordinary achievement and gives us hope about the fate of human rights in the country," said Isnur.

Presidential spokesperson for legal affairs Dini Purwono said on Wednesday that the government respected the court's ruling. She added that the government would consult with the state legal team about whether to appeal the ruling.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/06/05/papuan-internet-lawsuit-intended-to-push-for-good-governance-civil-groups.html