Did the Indonesian government order Telkomsel and XL to block news website Asia Sentinel?

2 mins read
October 21, 2012

In the past two days, there had been suspicion of online censorship that came from the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Informatics. Mobile subscribers trying to access news website Asia Sentinel had been prevented from doing so if they were connecting using Telkomsel or XL numbers. There hasn’t been any clear reason as to why access to this website was being blocked, and why only on Telkomsel and XL networks. The news site is still accessible using other networks and landline connections.

On Friday, Telkomsel and XL subscribers were shown messages saying that the website is not available if they try to open the news site. However, a new message was shown to Telkomsel subscribers on Saturday. In addition to saying that it was not available, Telkomsel claims that the website contains pornographic material. XL on the other hand simply told its subscribers that the site was not available.

There has been speculation that an editorial by A. Lin Neumann, Asia Sentinel’s founding editor, may have been the reason. His latest piece criticized the government’s plan to remove science and English subjects from Indonesia’s elementary schools. The education ministry plans to replace these subjects with religion and statesmanship. He cited his 4 year old daughter’s fascination with science as an example of why children should not be denied scientific knowledge in schools.

In his article, Neumann also directly told Dedi Gumelar, former comedian turned parliament member, to study South Korea’s education system which places very strong emphasis on science and English in schools even though the country is considered as one of the most staunchly nationalistic on the planet. Gumelar had argued that science and English are less important than nation-building, ethics, and culture.

It would be very strange to have this particular article be the reason for censorship as it is also published on Jakarta Globe’s website, which is freely accessible by anyone from anywhere using any Internet connection. It just so happens that Neumann is also the co-founding editor of the Globe. In any case, it is doubtful that his editorial is the reason why the website is being blocked. There had been countless other articles online from Indonesian publications in the past few weeks criticizing the government on this decision.

The blocking was first noted by Ong Hock Chuan, owner of PR firm Maverick, on his Twitter account when he wanted to read a news item on the website. He asked if anyone else using Telkomsel was able to look at the website.

While Telkomsel subscribers are still being denied access to this website as of today, late yesterday XL had lifted its ban on Asia Sentinel. Previously, XL subscribers had been redirected to its standard notification page for inaccessible websites.

[Images of Telkomsel notification pages by @unspun and @o2zone]

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