Internet access restricted in Myanmar, information blackout worsens

Demonstrators are seen before a clash with security forces in Taze, Sagaing Region, Myanmar April 7, 2021. (Reuters)

The military junta's information blackout has intensified as fiber broadband infrastructure, the only legal way for average citizens to access the internet has been intermittently unavailable on many networks.

Satellite dishes used to access foreign news broadcasts have also been confiscated by authorities in some areas.

Despite the killing of 11 people by security forces the day before, protests against the February 1 coup that deposed Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government continued on Thursday.

It was uncertain if the internet outages experienced by at least two service providers, MBT and Infinite Networks, were permanent. A break in the line between Yangon and Mandalay, the country's two largest cities, halted MBT's operation, according to the company. However, internet users have been moaning about big service slowdowns for the past week.

Since the coup, the junta has steadily reduced internet access. It started by blocking social networking sites like Facebook, which was mostly unsuccessful, and then cut mobile data service, the most popular form of connecting to the internet, but only at night. The junta enforced a complete ban on mobile data use as it escalated its use of lethal force against demonstrators.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps track of injuries and arrests, security forces have killed at least 598 demonstrators and bystanders since the takeover.

Media repression

Satellite television as a source of knowledge seemed to be in jeopardy as well. Local government vehicles in Laputta and other towns in the Irrawaddy Delta southwest of Yangon declared over loudspeakers that satellite dishes were no longer legal and that they needed to be turned in at police stations. Police also raided and seized the dishes from shops selling them.

News sites on the internet Similar steps, according to Khit Thit Media and Mizzima, were taken in Mon state in the country's southeast. Satellite television provides links to foreign news outlets about Myanmar.

Both non-state-owned daily newspapers have ceased publication since the coup, and online news outlets have been severely harmed. In early March, five prominent independent news services had their operating licenses revoked and were ordered to stop publishing and broadcasting on all platforms, but they mostly disobeyed the orders. Other agencies have faced legal action as a result of their coverage.

Around 30 journalists who were detained during the coup are still being held. Approximately half of them have been charged with breaking a law prohibiting the dissemination of knowledge that may jeopardize national security or public order. The crime carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, wrote to the junta this week, requesting “the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists imprisoned as a result of your February 1 suspension of democracy and imposition of emergency rule.”

“Press freedom conditions in your country have quickly and dramatically deteriorated since the military took over,” the group said. According to news accounts, journalists have been battered, shot and wounded by live bullets, and wrongly detained and prosecuted by security forces for simply reporting the protests and your regime's retaliatory clampdown.”

Humanitarian costs are rising.

Demonstrations were held in Launglone township, in the country's south, where villagers sang songs and lit candles before dawn before marching down rural roads, and in Dawei, also in the south, where engineers, teachers, students, and others participated in their latest rally.

Despite eight security forces killings in Dawei, junta opponents have continued to protest on the streets, avoiding confrontations by varying the start times of protests and splitting into smaller groups.

Security forces raided the town of Kalay in northwestern Myanmar on Wednesday, where some residents had formed a self-defense force with homemade hunting rifles.

According to local news sources, security forces killed at least 11 civilians and wounded several others. The Myanmar state-owned Global New Light newspaper announced on Thursday that 18 rioters with homemade weapons had been detained, but there was no mention of civilian casualties.

Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in southeastern Kayin state and Bago region as a result of military attacks and airstrikes, as well as army clashes with ethnic guerillas representing the Karen minority. War in the northeast has displaced 3,000 people, while fighting in northern Shan state has displaced over 8,000 people, according to Dujarric, who spoke from New York.

On the diplomatic front, UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, who has called for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar, is visiting Thailand this week and plans to visit other ASEAN members as well as China. According to Dujarric.

Burgener has called for a strong international response to the crisis, as well as a coordinated effort by regional countries to use their clout to help Myanmar's stability, according to him.

Burgener is also planning another trip to Myanmar, where she hopes to meet with detained leaders such as President U Wint Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. According to Dujarric.

Burgener also said that he is willing to “resume dialogue with the military to contribute to Myanmar's democratic course, peace, and stability.”

Publish : 2021-04-09 13:46:00

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