Internet Shutdown in Papua: A Digital Form of Repression that Contravenes the Principle of Emergency Situation

ELSAM Press Release

Internet Shutdown in Papua: A Digital Form of Repression that Contravenes the Principle of Emergency Situation

After a wave of demonstrations related to racism towards the Papuan people, the Indonesian government decided to impose an internet shutdown in Papua and West Papua on August 21, 2019. Through press release Number 155/HM/KOMINFO/08/2019, the Indonesian government announced that they are shutting down the telecommunications data services in Papua and West Papua in order to accelerate the process of restoring the security and public order. The Internet shutdown is imposed until further notice when the condition in Papua and West Papua is considered conducive and normal again. The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) considers the actions taken by the Indonesian government as a form of digital repression that contravenes the public emergency principle, considering that the Indonesian government is imposing the internet shutdown under the pretext of public emergency.

Firstly, the internet shutdown in Papua is a violation of constitutional rights of Indonesian citizens to communicate and obtain information guaranteed in Article 28F of the UUD 1945 and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information. 

Internet shutdown in Papua is the first total internet shutdown (the complete termination of internet access services in an area) in Indonesia. Previously, in the 21-22 May 2019 demonstration in front of the Election Supervisory Body (BAWASLU), Jakarta, the Indonesian government also imposed a partial internet shutdown, by means of bandwidth throttling, to decrease the internet speed and limit access to sites or applications to prevent people from communicating or sharing information, namely the distribution of images and videos through a number of social media platforms. This series of internet shutdowns marks a bad record in internet governance in Indonesia, that must respect human rights and democracy.

Considering its disproportionate impact, the United Nations Human Rights Council then denounced the practice of government-ordered internet shutdown as a measures  in violation of international human rights law that aim to or that intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online. Some examples of the internet shutdown negative impacts are, limiting public access to exchange important information related to security, preventing people from communicating with each other in an emergency, hampering journalism work, and its negative impact on a country’s economy.

Especially in the current situation in Papua, in order to avoid arbitrary actions by law enforcement authorities, access to information should be made widely available to ensure there are no human rights violations during the critical events. The Indonesian government’s action shutting down the internet in the midst of protests further strengthens the thesis of a study which shows that internet shutdowns often occur in conjunction with higher levels of state repression. Furthermore, learning from India, instead of restoring the conditions to be conducive and normal, internet shutdown actually leads to increased violence during demonstrations.

Secondly, the internet shutdown in Papua is not in accordance with the limitation principle enshrined in Article 19 ICCPR, which has been ratified by Indonesia, through Law No. 12/2005. This discrepancy is due to failure to interpret the element of limitation, especially concerning the ‘public emergency’. Under the ‘Legitimate Aim’ requirement to limit human rights, it is stated that the legitimate purpose of limiting rights is an important requirement, one of which is national security or there is a direct threat whose impact threatens the life of the nation. In the case of Papua, the Indonesian government has not officially declared a Public Emergency. The press release also does not explain the state of emergency clearly. It is important to underline that not all demonstrations can be qualified as an ‘Public Emergency’ that threatens the life of the nation. In this case, the Indonesian government should provide an explanation to the public about the reasons why the restrictive measures are legitimate and necessary in the event of a public emergency. This includes the obligation in explaining why the demonstration in Papua qualifies as a public emergency that could threaten the lives of the Indonesian people. This is essential to ensure the reasons behind the internet shutdown meet the necessity principle.

Thirdly, in a state of public emergency, there are permissible restrictions (including access to information), in the context of maintaining safety, health and public order. However, referring to the provisions of Article 4 of the ICCPR, such actions can only be carried out if a situation that truly threatens the life of the nation and its existence, or an extraordinary situation — exceptional and temporary. In addition, human rights law also emphasizes that public emergencies can only be enforced if: there is a threat to the life of the nation and its existence; threaten the physical integrity of the population, both in all or part of the region; threaten political independence or territorial integrity; disruption of the basic functions of government institutions thereby affecting the obligation to protect the rights of citizens; the threat is actual or will occur; temporary or within a certain period of time; and must be formally declared through a declaration of public emergency. The ICCPR also emphasizes that restrictive measures in the name of a public emergency may only be carried out, as long as these actions do not contravene other obligations under international law, and do not contain discrimination based on anything (race, skin color, religion, language, sex, etc.).

Referring to these elements, although the Indonesian government stated that the internet shutdown in Papua was imposed in order to respond to a public emergency, the requirements of invoking public emergency were not fulfilled whatsoever. This is because there in Papua there is no official statement of a public emergency, even for a certain period. This means that restrictive measures against human rights (including the right to information and to communicate therein), cannot be done on the grounds of public emergency. Moreover, this decision was only announced solely through a Press Release, which certainly does not qualify as an official and legal proclamation of the emergency. That is, this action has no legality that can be justified legally. This renders the opportunity of the public to challenge the decision of the state, because a Press Release certainly cannot be interpreted as an official decision from the state.

Building on the concerns around the Government of Indonesia’s decision to shut down the internet in Papua, the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) put forward the following recommendations for:

  1. The Indonesian government, especially the Ministry of Communication and Information to restore access to information in Papua and West Papua by lifting the internet shutdown in both regions;
  2. The Ministry of Communication and Information to provide and publish adequate explanations related to legal reasons behind the internet shutdown in Papua and West Papua;
  3. The Indonesian government, especially the Ministry of Communication and Information, to refrain from imposing internet shutdown in Papua and West Papua, as well as in other regions in Indonesia, without a constitutional, clear, and strict legal framework, that in line with human rights law, especially related to restriction/limitation measures; and
  4. The Indonesian government, as a state party to the ICCPR, to be fully consistent with the obligations stipulated in the Covenant, also when implementing a public emergency, which will have an effect on limiting actions towards the enjoyment of human rights, including the right to Internet access. When invoking a state of public emergency, each state party to the covenant must notify state parties and the United Nations Secretary-General of the provisions from which it has derogated along with the reasons by which it was actuated.

 

Jakarta, 22 August 2019

Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)

 

For further information please contact Wahyudi Djafar (Deputy Director of Research), phone: +6281382083993; or Lintang Setianti (Researcher), phone: +6285711624684, or Alia Yofira (Researcher), phone: +6281217015759.


  1. See www.accessnow.org/keepiton/ 
  2.  UN Doc. A/HRC/38/L.10/Rev.1, The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/G18/203/73/PDF/G1820373.pdf?OpenElement
  3. CNBC, “Government shutdown threatens to have bigger impact on economy”, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/10/government-shutdown-could-start-to-hit-economy-as-it-moves-into-uncharted-territory.html
  4.  Anita R. Gohdes,“Pulling The Plug Network disruptions and violence in civil conflict”, Journal Of Peace Research, Vol.52, No.3, (2015): pp.352-367. DOI:10.1177/0022343314551398. Accessed on 21 August 2019.
  5. Jan Rydzak, “Of Blackouts and Bandhs: The Strategy and Structure of Disconnected Protest in India.” Global Digital Policy Incubator Stanford University, Working Paper, (2019): p.44. https://ssrn.com/abstract=3330413. Accessed on 21 August 2019.