Jayapura, Jubi – The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers), and digital rights watchdog SAFEnet have said that the internet blackout in Papua’s Jayapura City and its surrounding areas in the past month hinders the journalism work in Papua, which hampers the fulfillment of people’s right to information.
The internet service has been disrupted since April 30, 2021. State-owned telecommunication giant PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (PT Telkom) claimed it was due to their broken submarine cables but failed to provide information on what has caused the broken cables to date.
As of Friday, May 21, AJI Jayapura reported that journalists in four regions, namely Jayapura City, Jayapura Regency, Keerom Regency, and Sarmi Regency were still barely able to access the internet. Some journalists were forced to send news to the editor using short message services. Even then, sending short messages was not all that smooth.
“The internet blackout in the past three weeks has become a serious obstacle for journalists in Jayapura and its surrounding areas. Journalists cannot verify information quickly,” AJI chief Sasmito said in a written statement on Monday.
“Even the Cenderawasih Pos regrettably cut down their newspaper pages from 24 to 16 pages due to a shortage of news materials from national news reports,” he added.
The AJI, SAFEnet, and LBH Pers said that in a situation in which the journalists could not verify facts to maintain the “check and balance” principle, it was feared that certain parties would dominate and control information about Papua.
“Especially considering that the internet shutdown occurred amid an escalated armed conflict [between] the police’s Nemangkawi Task Force [and the TPNPB], as well as the evaluation of the Papua Special Autonomy Law,” LBH Pers director Ade Wahyudin said.
Moreover, the internet disturbance has disadvantaged not only the press but also the education sector, economy, and health. Online learning was impossible in Jayapura in the past weeks, prompting students, teachers, and lecturers to learn offline in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. School examinations are also halted.
Therefore, the AJI, SAFEnet, and LBH Pers urged PT Telkom and the Communication and Information Ministry to expedite efforts to restore the communication system in Papua so as not to exacerbate the impact of internet blackout on the public including restricting press freedom.
The group also demanded PT Telkom explain to the public transparently the cause of the internet shutdown while including supporting evidence. The group found that the statements made by PT Telkom in the media have been inconsistent, from saying the cause was earthquakes to tectonic shifts and ocean currents. Unfortunately, the group said, such an explanation was not accompanied by strong evidence.
The group further asked PT Telkom to keep the public updated with the submarine cables reparation and, provide better and equal (non-discriminative) communication infrastructure in Papua, and prepare mitigation efforts to prevent another broken submarine cables in the future.