Myanmar’s military rulers are seeking to limit access to the internet to an internal network of only “whitelisted” sites to quash opposition to their seizure of power, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.
After 50 years of political and economic isolation, Myanmar embarked on a hopeful period of transition in 2011, which culminated in the election of a civilian government in 2015. Almost as soon as the country opened up to the world, internet penetration began to rise, increasing over the next decade from 0.25 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2020, thanks to the arrival of international communication companies, including from China. As internet connectivity grew, so did mobile services and social media. As of mid-February 2021, there are 29 million social media users, equivalent to 53 percent of the population.
Researchers at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic and International Human Rights Clinic collaborated with three human rights organizations based in Myanmar to produce a study on internet restrictions in Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to a white paper the groups published last month.
Myanmar’s army has ordered internet service providers to block access to Facebook as it attempts to stamp out signs of dissent, days after it ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Access to the internet in Myanmar dropped sharply after the military detained leaders of ruling party National League for Democracy, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and declared a state of emergency. The NLD won a wide majority of parliamentary seats in November’s general election, which the military alleges was the result of election fraud. In a statement on military-owned television, the army said a year-long state of emergency would be declared in Myanmar and power handed to military chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Myanmar’s government should immediately lift internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States that have put civilians at added risk, Human Rights Watch said today. Government restrictions on the internet have hampered the coordination of aid, collection of accurate information, and monitoring of abuses.
The internet shutdown in Myanmar’s conflict-ridden northwest, described by rights groups as the world’s longest, has entered a second year.