JAKARTA, Aug 22 - Indonesia has cut off internet access in eastern Papua to prevent provocative posts online from fuelling violence, after protesters torched buildings, a market and a prison over mistreatment of students and perceived ethnic discrimination.
Police have flown in 1,200 additional officers to Papua to quell sometimes violent protests since Monday in several towns, including Timika - which stands near the giant Grasberg copper mine operated by Freeport McMoran’s Indonesian unit - as well as Manokwari, Sorong, and Fakfak.
Smaller demonstrations and rallies in favor of Papua flared up throughout Indonesia on Thursday, while Indonesia’s chief security minister, police chief and military commander visited Sorong on Thursday to inspect where the most violent protests had occurred.
Two new rallies, described as peaceful by officials, unfolded in the Nabire and Yahukimo parts of Papua, according to Indonesian news site Kompas.
A separate and more tense protest erupted on Thursday in Jakarta where more than a hundred Papuan students demonstrated in the heart of the Indonesian capital.
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”.
Some held posters demanding the right to self-determination and “to end racism and colonialism in West Papua”.
Another smaller Papuan student protest also started on Thursday in the nearby city of Bogor.
While a separatist movement has simmered for decades in Papua, with frequent complaints of rights abuses leveled against Indonesian security forces, the recent anger appears to be linked to racist slurs against Papuan students who were detained last week.
The students were arrested from their dormitory in the city of Surabaya in East Java after being accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag during a celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day.
Indonesia’s communication ministry has blocked access to telecommunication data and internet to prevent Papuans from accessing social media since Wednesday night, though calls and text messages will still work, Ferdinandus Setu, ministry spokesman said.
“This is an effort to curb hoax and most importantly stop people from sharing provocative messages that can incite racial hatred,” he said, adding that the curb may be lifted “if the situation has calmed”.
Police have arrested 34 people in Timika, where thousands of protesters threw rocks at a parliament building, houses, shops and a hotel on Wednesday, officials told local media. They accuse 13 of being members of a pro-Papua independence separatist group.
Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.
President Joko Widodo has been informed that the situation in Papua was under control, his Cabinet Secretariat said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Widodo has sought to ease tensions and improve welfare by building infrastructure in the provinces. He has visited the restive region more frequently than any of his predecessors, and plans to go to Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, next month, to open a new bridge, the secretariat said.