Indonesia Blocks, then Unblocks Access to Asia Sentinel

Apparent pique over Papua coverage

The Indonesian government on November 18 blocked access to Asia Sentinel in some areas of the country including the capital Jakarta, the country’s most populous region, apparently in irritation over a November 4 article reporting on press restrictions in the restive province of Papua.

The site was later unblocked without comment. No reason was given for either action. A notice blocking access to Indonesian appeared on Asia Sentinel’s page announcing in Indonesian and English languages only that “Sorry, access to this site is blocked in relation to the Ministry of Communications and Informatics Regulation No. 19/2014 related to a Safe Internet. Thank you for your understanding.”

Asia Sentinel, which is legally US-based although its operations are in Asia, is attempting to ascertain the scope and duration of the block. Apparently, it wasn’t blocked in Bali and other areas, and the publication was accessible on mobile phones in certain areas. Attempts to get a response from the communications ministry failed. Calls to the US Embassy in Jakarta were met with a reply that there was no one available to speak about the issue.

“We do not see any reason for which your media should be punished for publishing factual information,” said Cédric Alviani, East Asia bureau head for Reporters Without Borders. “RSF calls on the Indonesian government to immediately lift every restriction, they should never have imposed them. Blocking the media is not the solution to solving problems. We do not recommend the Indonesian government to persist in denying coverage of the situation in Papua.”

Indonesia, Alviani said, ranks 113th of 180 nations in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF.

The article in question, Indonesia Restricts Press Coverage of Restive Province, pointed out that the government is keeping a tight lid on access by both domestic and international journalists, raising suspicions of a cover-up of ‘irregularities,’ and that Jakarta fears growing openness to a pro-independence campaign. The government, it said, “apparently doesn’t want to repeat its experience in Timor Leste, where the arrival of international media and human rights activists after the occupation by Indonesia for 24 years helped to open the way for independence in 2002.”

The story also quoted Colonel Muhammad Aidi, head of Information for the XVII Cenderawasih Military Regional Command, as denying accusations that journalistic access in Papua is restricted. "Indonesia, including Papua, has never been closed to anyone, as long as it follows the procedures applicable in this country," he told local media.