The government of Indonesia has confirmed that it blocked internet access in the country.
Riots and demonstrations brought several Papuan cities to a standstill this week, as buildings were torched and street battles broke out between police and protesters in Indonesia’s easternmost territory, and the government says the internet was blocked over fears that a stream of offensive and racists posts online will spark more violent protests in the region.
A rebel insurgency against Jakarta’s rule has simmered for decades in the island region, which shares a border with Papua New Guinea.
But the riots appear to have been triggered by the arrest of dozens of Papuan students — who were also pelted with racist abuse — in Java at the weekend.
Indonesia slowed internet service in recent days to clamp down on hoaxes, provocative comments and racist abuse targeting Papua’s ethnic Melanesian population. But it shut down service completely late Wednesday.
“As of this morning, there is still a full block on internet access,” communications ministry spokesman Ferdinandus Setu told AFP.
“The amount of racist and provocative content online was very high… and it went viral.”
The region’s three internet providers cooperated with the shutdown, but many users managed to get around the block, Setu said.
“The restrictions have not been that effective,” he added. “We’re still evaluating the situation… and will probably lift the block by this afternoon if possible.”
Calm appeared to have been mostly restored Thursday after Indonesia sent in 1,200 extra police and military to Papua, with some 45 protesters reportedly arrested.
Indonesia’s chief security minister Wiranto, who goes by one name, flew to the island late Wednesday with the head of the military and Indonesia’s national police chief.
They were expected to hold a press briefing Thursday in riot-hit Manokwari city.
In Jakarta, more than 100 demonstrators calling for Papuan independence scuffled with police near the presidential palace, while dozens of placard-holding demonstrators protested in Bali’s capital Denpasar.
The unrest was sparked by reports that authorities tear-gassed and briefly detained some 43 Papuan university students in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city, on Saturday — the country’s independence day.