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Jakarta Post

Civil society groups will face government in court over Papuan internet blackout

  • Kharishar Kahfi
    Kharishar Kahfi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, December 3, 2019   /   08:22 am
Civil society groups will face government in court over Papuan internet blackout Solidarity: An activist holds up a poster during a protest in Jakarta on Aug. 23 against the internet blackout in Papua and West Papua. The government cut internet in the eastern regions in an effort to combat unrest. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

The Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) has ordered that a lawsuit against the government’s decision to enforce an internet blackout during unrest in Papua and West Papua will go to trial.

The court ruled during a preliminary hearing on Monday that the suit, which was filed last week, would be handled by state administrative court judges. 

The plaintiffs – the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) – sued President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and the Communications and Information Ministry. One representative from the Ministry attended the hearing on Monday.

“Under the new Supreme Court regulation, any government decision allegedly violating the law will be handled by the court,” Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) director Ade Wahyudin said in a statement. LBH Pers, as well as four other civil society organizations, served as the plaintiffs' legal representatives in the case. 

He added that the government’s move to impose an internet blackout in the two provinces did not have strong legal standing as it violated regulations and harmed the freedom of expression.

AJI chairman Abdul Manan said the internet blackout imposed had brought bigger problems than mere legal ones. He said the lawsuit would be a good precedent for any parties disappointed with the government’s decision.

Read also: Govt accused of 'digital repression' after suspending internet access in riot-stricken Papua

“The government only issued a press statement prior to blocking the internet, which was an improper move pertaining to a decision that had huge effects on the people whose right to obtain information was violated,” Abdul said.

SAFEnet executive director Damar Juniarto said his side was disappointed that the government had not responded to their earlier complaint about the internet blackout. The lack of a response had convinced them to file a lawsuit, he added.

“The blackout has been in the spotlight around the world as it was seen as a new way for the government to repress its people and control the flow of information. We don’t want the government to run away from its responsibilities,” Damar said.

Unrest broke out in Papua and West Papua after a series of racially charged attacks in Surabaya, East Java, in August and another incident reportedly involving a teacher in Wamena, Papua, in September. About 40 people reportedly died as result of the riots in Wamena alone.

During the unrest, the government announced that it would completely block internet access in the country’s easternmost provinces in order to “accelerate the process of restoring security and order in Papua and surrounding areas”. Previously, the ministry had slowed down internet access in several cities where the riots took place.