Indonesia to lift internet ban in rebellious Papua region | News | DW | 05.09.2019
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Indonesia to lift internet ban in rebellious Papua region

Jakarta said the internet had been blocked to stop hateful messages and fake news that were fueling unrest in Papua. Media and free speech advocates have slammed the move to curtail internet services.

Internet access is set to be restored in most of Papua, Indonesia on Thursday, officials said.

Jakarta had cut internet services in response to mass protests that left at least five people dead, trouble that was initially sparked by anger over racism and a simmering insurgency in a region where some reject Indonesian rule.

A former Dutch colony located on the island of New Guinea, Papua became part of Indonesia following a controversial 1969 poll. Jakarta has faced a low-intensity separatist movement in Papua ever since.

The internet ban affected telecommunications data, though phone calls and text messages continued to work as normal, authorities had said.

In addition to blocking the internet, the Indonesian government also deployed thousands of extra security personnel to the region.

"Based on coordination with relevant authorities, we deem that the security situation is returning to normal," said Ferdinandus Setu, a spokesman for the Communications and Information Technology Ministry. 

Indonesia's government defended the cut in internet services, saying it meant to stop what it described as a barrage of hoaxes and provocative comments regarding Papuans that were stoking unrest.

"The security situation in some areas is recovering and the spread of fake news and provocative, hateful commentary related to Papua is also declining," the ministry said.

Media and free speech advocates have slammed the internet blockade, which affected some 29 of 42 districts across the mountainous, jungle-covered region.

Read more: Exiled West Papuan leader: 'A referendum is the only solution'

Ethnic and religious differences

The anti-government protests, which began on August 19, were sparked by perceived heavy-handed and racist treatment of native Papuan students by security forces on the country's main island of Java. 

Tensions then erupted in the region between indigenous Papuans and migrants from other parts of the country.

Since the majority of Papuans are Christian and ethnic Melanesian, they share few cultural ties to the rest of Indonesia's population, which is majority Muslim.

On Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she was "disturbed" by the violence unfolding in Papua.

"I encourage the authorities to engage in dialogue with the people of Papua... on their aspirations and concerns, as well as to restore internet services and refrain from any excessive use of force," she said in a statement.

jcg/bk (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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