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Indonesian Police charge Papua activist as govt mulls ending blackout
11:34 pm GMT+12, 04/09/2019, Indonesia

While pledging to gradually lift its internet restriction in Papua and West Papua, the government has taken another strong measure against a human rights activist who has supported the provinces’ calls for independence.
 
The East Java Police has named human rights lawyer Veronica Koman a suspect for allegedly violating four different laws, including the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, by reportedly encouraging Papuans and West Papuans to riot.
 
East Java Police chief Insp. Luki Hermawan said the police had decided to name Veronica as a suspect after conducting a preliminary hearing on Tuesday night. The activist, he further said, had “aggressively provoked” citizens via twitter account @VeronicaKoman by giving out information surrounding the recent protests and riots.
 
A string of protests and riots erupted in the two provinces after security personnel and members of mass organisations were heard using racial slurs against Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, because they thought the students were refusing to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day.
 
Veronica posted a series of reports on the incident on Twitter.
 
“This is how Indonesian police charged into the West Papuan students’ dorm, shot teargas into it and arrested the unarmed students,” the police chief said as he quoted one of Veronica’s tweets posted on 18 August.
 
The tweet also featured photographs showing the police arresting dozens of Papuan students living at the dorm.
 
Aside from the ITE Law, Veronica may also be charged under Article 160 of the Criminal Code, and Law No. 40/2008 on the elimination of race and ethnicity discrimination, for allegedly instigating unrest.
 
Rights group Amnesty International Indonesia condemned the police’s decision, saying it could tarnish freedom of expression in the country.
 
“The East Java Police must immediately stop the criminalization against Veronica Koman. The National Police should instead assure that all police ranks respect freedom of expression in public, including on social media,” said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid.
 
The government has blocked internet services in Papua and West Papua to avoid further provocation but also jammed communication in the two provinces, raising concerns that it would worsen violence in the region.
 
Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara said on Tuesday night said that authorities and security forces are considering to gradually lift the internet restriction in cities and regencies where tension has eased.   
 
“All internet-based telecommunication services like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram will be fully restored in problem-free areas,” Rudiantara said, adding that it would take only three hours to restore internet services in one particular region.
 
However, he warned that the government would undoubtedly impose another internet blackout should protests flare up again.
 
The government began imposing an internet blackout on Aug. 21 in Papua and West Papua under the pretext of security and maintaining stability amid unrest.
 
The move sparked outrage among residents who wanted to stay informed about further violence erupting in the country’s easternmost provinces. The blackout was announced hours after the government said it would deploy thousands of additional security personnel to the restive region.
 
It has also affected the work of journalists, particularly those based in Papua and West Papua, as they faced difficulties delivering news reports and gathering information quickly and accurately.
 
To make matters worse, the government decided to limit foreign travel, including foreign journalists, to the region over safety concerns.
 
“We will limit access temporarily. That doesn’t mean we are totally banning anyone from abroad, but there will be filters based on security issues,” Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Minister Wiranto said in a separate press conference on Tuesday.

SOURCE: THE JAKARTA POST/PACNEWS


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