Indonesia cuts internet access in Papua, attempts to squash protests

Demonstrators in Fakfak West Papua province reportedly set the public market on fire on Wednesday

Demonstrators in Fakfak West Papua province reportedly set the public market on fire on Wednesday

The shutdown comes amid a surge in civil unrest in West Papua, sparked in response to the arrest and alleged mistreatment of Papuan students by police in the East Java town of Surabaya, according to the United Kingdom.

Claims of heavy-handed treatment and racist slurs by the police followed.

Mr Wiranto passed on President Joko Widodo's appeal for Papuans to "become peaceful again, forgive one another, and not to be emotional", national police spokesman Asep Adi Saputra told reporters in Jakarta yesterday.

Smaller demonstrations and rallies in support of Papua flared nationwide on Thursday, while the chief security minister, police chief and military commander visited Sorong to inspect the sites of the most violent protests.

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The convicts are even helping build a temporary office for their jailers, he added, after parts of the building in Sorong city went up in flames this week.

Many in the crowd painted their faces with a morning star flag that is a separatist group symbol, or wore headbands adorned with the flag.

"This is a critical time because security personnel have been deployed in 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. No deaths have been reported in connection with the violence. The bishop who is apostolic administrator of Merauke Archdiocese in the province of West Papua, denounced racism as "an inhumane and immoral act", saying, "it is understandable that they feel offended by racist abuse". The internet shutdown caused the intensifying of the protests, a number of protesters have also started to gather in Jakarta.

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As they marched from the Indonesian army headquarters to the gates of the presidential palace, demonstrators shouted pro-independence slogans demanding "referendum for Papua" or "freedom for Papua". It has been under Indonesian control since 1969. Rumors spread that an Indonesian flag that normally hangs outside a university dormitory that houses Papuan students had been thrown into a sewer.

The majority of almost 300 inmates who fled a torched jail in Papua during a wave of civil unrest in Indonesia's easternmost region, have since willingly turned themselves in.

"The Kominfo chose to temporarily block internet services starting from Wednesday until the situation in Papua land is considered back to normal", a statement issued by the Kominfo said.

The President has paid special attention to the region since he assumed office in 2014, visiting it more often than any of his predecessors.

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