- The PTUN judge stated that the Indonesian government was obliged to publicly apologize for the policy.
- If the government made an appeal, according to the judge, the decision could still be implemented.
- The slowdown and disconnection of the internet in several regions of Papua occurred shortly after a racism incident at the Papua student hostel, mid-August 2019.
The Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) has found President Joko Widodo, and the Minister of Communication and Informatics, guilty of “violating the principles of government” during the Internet blackout imposed during the August-September 2019 riots in Papua and West Papua.
The PTUN judge stated that the Indonesian government was obliged to publicly apologize for the policy, to be printed in three national newspapers and broadcast on six television stations within a month. The President of Indonesia and the Minister of Communication and Information are the defendants in this case.
“The court declares [the internet blackout] was a violation of the law by government bodies or officials,” said Jakarta PUTN Presiding Judge Nelvy Christin, in reading out the ruling during a live-streamed hearing on Wednesday. So far, there has been no response from the Indonesian government to this PTUN decision.
During the previous trial, the government stated that the policy was in accordance with existing laws and regulations. In its ruling, the Administrative Court also stated that the government had broken the law and had cut off internet access in Papua and West Papua.
“By here the acts by the government committed by defendants number one and two are deemed in violation of the law,” said Judge Nelvy Christin. “Punishing Defendant 1 and Defendant 2 paid a court fee of Rp457,000,” Nelvy said.
The slowdown and disconnection of the internet in several regions of Papua occurred shortly after a racism incident at the Papua student hostel, mid-August 2019. The incident was followed by several riots, including in Manokwari and Sorong. During that period, Kominfo claimed to block 713,166 internet links that contained hoaxes about racism incidents in Surabaya.
“The Government is Obliged to Apologize”
The PUTN judge, in ordering a public apology, said if the government made an appeal, according to the judge, the decision could still be implemented. “Stating the decision on this lawsuit can be carried out in advance despite legal efforts,” said the PTUN decision.
How did this Lawsuit begin?
On January 22, 2020, PTUN began holding the first session of a lawsuit against the slowdown and termination of the Papua internet network by the government in August-September 2019. In the inaugural hearing, the plaintiff, who is a coalition of civil society, asked the judge to declare the government’s decision as an act against the law.
On the other hand, despite not attending the hearing, the government at that time stated that the policy was in line with existing laws and regulations. Activists say the slowdown and termination of the internet in Papua is accused of violating several legal provisions, including Law 40/1999 on the Press and Law 12/2005, which regulates freedom to search, receive, and provide information.
Ade Wahyudin, the plaintiff’s attorney, accused the government of disturbing the work of journalists and mass media in Papua at the time. Ade said the Ministry of Information and Communication’s (Kominfo) claim to prevent the spread of hoaxes, as the riots that occurred last August in several cities in Papua, actually caused confusion in the information.
“The media that want to do the verification just can’t work. It means that information outside Papua is still circulating, while journalists in Papua cannot clarify what is circulating in Jakarta,” Ade said by telephone after the hearing.
Ade thinks that judges needed to declare that the government’s decision was “against the law” so that it will not be re-applied in the future. He was worried that without the decision the government would have a precedent restricting citizens’ internet access.
“In a number of statements the Ministry of Communication and Information will continue to block and shut down this. If the statement does not violate the law, if there is a conflict, the internet disconnection will often be done,” said Ade. “We want to prove that the action is not based on the law so that the government cannot arbitrarily cut off the internet,” he said.
However, as an official statement earlier, Kominfo again said that there was nothing wrong with internet restrictions and terminations for some time in Papua. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Communication and Information, Ferdinandus Setu, said that was what his party would declare to the judge in the next trial.
“That is in order to maintain public order because there are riots in several places and the spread of hoaxes is quite massive. That is in accordance with the mandate of the Law on information and electronic transactions,” he said when contacted.