Myanmar’s Internet Suppression

In Myanmar, the junta’s intensifying crackdowns on protesters in the street are mirrored by its rising restrictions online. Reuters: In the early hours of Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup that has ignited months of mass protests. The military junta’s security forces have since killed more than 550 civilians in crackdowns on the pro-democracy protesters, including children. To try to suppress protests, the junta has imposed increasing restrictions on internet access, culminating in a near total shutdown as of April 2. That has made it extremely difficult for people to access information, upload videos of protests, or organize. These tactics have also crippled businesses and limited access to medical information during the coronavirus pandemic. A Myanmar junta spokesperson did not respond to calls seeking comment. At a March 23 press conference, spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said the junta had no immediate plans to ease internet restrictions because violence was being provoked online.

Protesters in Myanmar, who asked to stay anonymous, told Reuters they were terrified about being shut off from the world, with no way to broadcast news of the protests or of the army’s killings to those outside of Myanmar. “We Myanmar people are in the dark now,” said one young protester. “News from Myanmar is going to disappear,” another added. Governments around the world are increasingly using internet restrictions during political crises as a tool to limit free expression and hide human rights abuses, according to data from the digital rights organization Access Now. The U.N. Human Rights Council has condemned such intentional disruptions as a human rights violation. “Whenever the internet is shut down during such critical moments we would hear or document or see reports of human rights abuses, and that is what is happening in Myanmar,” said Felicia Anthonio, a campaigner with Access Now. “The government is cracking down on protesters to ensure they do not let the rest of the world know what is happening.” Since the coup, the junta has ordered telecom companies to carry out dozens of shutdowns. These shutdowns targeted mobile and wireless internet, which is the only available internet for most in the country.