26 Aug 2019

Urgent UN appeal filed over blocking of internet in Papua

3:57 pm on 26 August 2019

A West Papuan journalist and editor has complained to the United Nations about internet being cut in Papua by Indonesia's government.

West Papuan journalist Victor Mambor

West Papuan journalist Victor Mambor Photo: Paul Bensemann

The government has restricted internet access in Papua in a bid to stem the flow of what it terms "hoax news" which it has blamed for widespread protests.

Victor Mambor has filed an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye.

The editor of Papua's Tabloid Jubi newspaper, Mr Mambor said the ability of local journalists to report is fundamentally affected by the blocking of the internet.

The Ministry of Communications announced last week it had throttled internet access to parts of Papua.

This came as large protests spread through Papua in response to racist harassment of Papuans in Javanese cities.

The ministry said blocking of internet will be held until the circumstances in Papua are "absolutely normal".

Mr Mambor said the blockage violated international human rights law, meaning coverage of the protests was difficult.

"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."

According to him, the block has hampered people's right to mobilise too.

"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."

Mr Mambor said Indonesian people were not stupid and could generally differentiate between hoax and accurate news coverage.

His appeal, made through the human rights lawyers Jennifer Robinson and Veronica Koman, also claims the internet blocking fundamentally violates the rights of all West Papuans

"We appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur, and to the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet, to raise concern with the Indonesian government about the military crackdown and internet blocking in West Papua," Mrs Robinson said.

She also urged the UN to call on Indonesia to ensure that Mr Mambor and West Papuan journalists are able to report "without fear of intimidation and harassment".

The government has deployed a thousand-extra military and police personnel to Papua, as some of the protests turned violent.

The Ministry said that although the situation in some parts of Papua had begun to gradually recover, "distribution and transmission of information hoax, hoaxes, provocative and racist remains high".

As a consequence, local media outlets are restricted in their ability to send photographs and videos of the protests.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Indonesian authorities to immediately restore internet access to Papua region.

The Committee's Senior Southeast Asia representative, Shawn Crispin, said the shutdown aimed to block the free flow of information in a region notorious for state-sponsored rights abuses.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs