Indonesia Cuts Internet Access in Papua to Curb Protests Over Ethnic Discrimination

A police officer escorting a woman to safety during a protest at Mimika in Papua Indonesia where fresh unrest hit the restive region yesterday

Riots have been reported in several cities across the region, which is divided into Papua and West Papua provinces, including in the West Papua provincial capital of Manokwari where an angry mob torched the Parliament building on Monday.

Residents of Papua and West Papua provinces have been blocked from using the internet after protesting against Indonesia's central government.

Reverend James Bhagwan says the recent incidents in Java further illustrate the concerns raised about the situation in West Papua during last week's Pacific Forum leaders summit last week.

Indonesia's chief security minister, police chief and military commander visited Sorong on Thursday to inspect where the protests erupted, but there no reports of fresh demonstrations there.

A Papuan activist displays a banner demanding referendum during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia.

In Fakfak, two Papuan men were critically wounded when Indonesian militias allegedly attacked their rally.

More than 100 West Papuan students in Indonesia's capital staged a protest against racism on Thursday and called for independence for their restive region.

Some held posters demanding the right to self-determination and an end to racism and colonialism in West Papua.

The country's Communications and Informatics Ministry has cut off access to telecommunication data and Internet to prevent people in Papua from accessing social media since August 21 night, though calls and text messages will still work, said ministry spokesman Ferdinandus Setu.

"This is an effort to curb hoax and most importantly stop people from sharing provocative messages that can incite racial hatred", he said, adding that the curb may be lifted "if the situation has calmed".

The students were arrested in a dormitory in the city of Surabaya in East Java after being accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag during an Independence Day celebration.

Papuan students have repeatedly been targets of intimidation by Islamist and nationalist groups as worldwide advocacy for Papuan independence has escalated since the formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua in 2014.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who plans to visit Papua, should condemn racist remarks and actions, promote tolerance, and direct the police to impartially investigate abusive militias and officers.

A rebel insurgency against Jakarta's rule has simmered for decades in the resource-rich but impoverished island, which shares a border with Papua New Guinea.

Widodo has sought to ease tensions and improve welfare by building infrastructure in the provinces.

The government has flown some 1,200 extra security forces to the region, which is already the country's most heavily militarized region.

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