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Myanmar military blocks internet, social media amid protests against coup

The Myanmar military first shut down access to social media platforms Instagram and Twitter, and later imposed a wider internet blackout as protests against deposing of the Aung San Suu Kyi government swelled.

After initially blocking Facebook, Myanmar on February 5 ordered mobile network and internet service providers to block Twitter and Instagram in the country as well. The next day, February 6, the country’s new military government directed all service providers to temporarily shut down data nationwide, and to permit only SMS and voice calls, referencing fake news, stability of the nation, and public interest as basis for the order. The internet shutdown directive only came hours after access to Twitter and Instagram were blocked as people for protests against the military coup, reported BBC News.

The country has undergone immense political upheaval the past week, as the military removed the democratic, elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, in a military coup. Suu Kyi, along with other political leaders and civil rights activists were detained by the military junta, which had swiftly cut off internet access hours after the coup on February 1.

On February 6, internet blockages monitoring website Netblocks reported that Myanmar had entered a second nationwide internet blackout as of 10 am local time.

The Telenor Group, one of the telecom providers in Myanmar, said it views the internet shutdown “with deep concern”.

“We have emphasised to the authorities that access to telecom services should be maintained at all times, especially during times of conflict, to ensure people’s basic right to freedom of expression and access to information. We deeply regret the impact the shutdown has on the people in Myanmar.” 

“To shut down the internet amid a volatile coup, a humanitarian crisis and a health pandemic is a heinous and reckless decision,” Amnesty International’s Ming Yu Hah said in a statement. It said the internet shutdown will put people on Myanmar at greater risk of human rights violations and urged the military to restore services immediately. 

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Data services were restored on February 7, following instructions from the Ministry, the Telenor Group said. Netblocks also reported connectivity being restored to 95% of ordinary levels. However, the social media restriction remains restricted “for many”, it added.

Instagram, Twitter blocked in addition to Facebook

Myanmar’s junta had temporarily blocked Facebook on February 4, ostensibly to ensure “stability” following the coup. In addition to this, all mobile operators, international gateways and internet service providers in Myanmar received a directive on February 5 from the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) to, “block the social media platforms Twitter and Instagram” until further notice, the Telenor Group said in a statement on February 5.

While the directive has legal basis in Myanmar’s telecommunications law, Telenor Myanmar has challenged the necessity and proportionality of the directive in its response to MoTC, and highlighted the directive’s contradiction with international human rights law.

Telenor Group is gravely concerned with this development in Myanmar, and emphasises that freedom of expression through access to communication services should be maintained at all times, especially during times of conflict.

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A day after the coup, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information warned people not to spread rumours on social media, and not to “incite rowdiness” or make statements that can cause unrest, per BBC News.

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