Indonesia blocks Papuan internet as riots spread

Indonesia has imposed an internet blackout on the occupied provinces of Papua and West Papua as it grapples to stop riots triggered by the abuse of Papuan students on Java.

Online access would be denied “until the situation gets back to normal”, Communications and Information Technology Ministry spokesman Ferdinandus Setu said. The authorities said the measures would only stop data and people could still make calls and send text messages.

The Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) is using the hashtag “keep it on” to urge the authorities to lift the internet ban.

Damar Juniarto of SAFEnet said the Indonesian government might be violating the law.

“It is preventing people from doing their jobs. This is a backward step in a democracy and a serious violation,” he said.

The authorities said they had sent 1,200 police reinforcements and 300 extra soldiers to three West Papua districts where most of the violence has taken place this week. 

In the latest unrest, rioters torched a market and government buildings in the West Papuan town of Fakfak yesterday (Wednesday), according to the police.

The Indonesian-controlled western half of the world’s second-largest island, New Guinea, is split between West Papua and the larger Papua provinces.

Up to 5,000 people protested near Timika in Papua, where demonstrators reportedly threw rocks at the parliament and tried to rip down its fence.

Oxford-based Papuan independence campaigner, Benny Wenda, said the arrests of Papuan students in the second-largest Indonesian city of Surabaya in East Java at the weekend, which prompted the protests, “lit the bonfire of nearly 60 years of racism, discrimination and torture of the people of West Papua by Indonesia”.

The Javan police stormed dormitories after Papuan students refused to be questioned over allegations that they damaged the Indonesian flag in the compound.

East Java police spokesman, Frans Barung Mangera, said 43 students were detained but released hours later. But videos showing the security forces calling the students “monkeys” and “pigs” sparked outrage in Papau.

Earlier, students barricaded themselves in their accommodation, while a Javan mob threw stones at the dormitories and chanted “monkeys”, “kick out Papuans” and “slaughter Papuans”. 

Hundreds marched in Sorong, where protesters destroyed parts of an airport and about 250 inmates escaped from a prison on Monday, West Papua’s police chief, Herry Rudolf Nahak, told the media.

International media access to the two impoverished provinces is heavily restricted so governments reports cannot be independently verified.

Asean’s largest economy is dependent on income derived from the export of Papua’s numerous natural resources, including from Grasberg, the world’s second-largest copper mine and largest gold mine. Almost none of the profits head back to the ethnically distinct Papuan population. 


The Grasberg mine is vital to the Indonesia economy. Picture credit: YouTube