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Internet shutdown has been imposed on Myanmar Rakhine state for six months


JOHN LIU  The Myanmar Times  sat, DECember 21,  2019

Women ride past a hoarding for a telecommunications company in Sittwe, Rakhine. Photo: EPA

The shutdown of all internet access in parts of northern Rakhine State entered six months today and is now one of the longest blackouts in the world.

The Myanmar government has yet to make any announcements in response to the public’s call of restoring internet connection in the four townships of Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, Kyauk Daw and Minbya.

“If the government can shut down the internet without public outcry, they will be more likely to do it again,” said Ma Yin Yadanar Thein, director of Free Expression Myanmar. “Today it is Rakhine but tomorrow it could be Shan, Kachin, or even when there are protests in Yangon.”

“[The] government’s accountability to the public is vital during times of conflict,” she said, adding that internet access enables “independent voices” to help hold the government accountable.

Twenty civil society organisations in Myanmar issued a joint statement Saturday condemning the government’s shutdown as “disproportionate” to its national security justification. They said the move would only exacerbate the conflict in the area.

“Despite global condemnation, including from the UN itself, the government has refused to restore internet access,” the statement said, which was signed by ATHAN (Freedom of Expression Activist Organisation), Myan ICT for Development Organisation (MIDO), Progressive Voice, Rakhine Youth New Generation Network and others.

The UN in November joined calls to end the blackout, calling it “a significant impediment” to its work and communications in the area.

The communications ministry ordered the four telecom operators to suspend internet services on June 21. The government previously said the ban was intended “to maintain the stability and law and order in these areas” but has made no announcement explaining its reason for such an extensive period of blackout without setting a time limit.

In July, Rathedaung township MP Daw Khin Saw Wai submitted an emergency proposal to the parliament to restore internet services but the motion was denied by the parliament speaker.

As The Myanmar Times reported earlier, aid agencies and rights groups have repeatedly warned that cutting off internet access has endangered the livelihoods and safety of local communities and exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. The blackout has made it even more difficult for the internally displaced people (IDPs) to access aid, or for the aid groups to reach them.

Meanwhile, the disconnection added to the difficulties for local communities to access digital payment systems, cutting off their ability to send and receive remittances and money transfer.

This newspaper also reported that the blackout and the ongoing fighting have put paid to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to draw investments into Rakhine and her government’s ambition of making Mrauk-U the next UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourism hub. Myanmar this month banned tourists from travelling to Mrauk-U together with Ponnagyun and Minbya, citing clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army.

In addition, corporate executives say the State Counsellor’s high-profile investment push for Rakhine State, launched in a government-led investment fair in Ngapali beach last February, is now over before it begins. Foreign business groups also warned of the “possible reputational impact in the international community and view of Myanmar as a responsible investment destination” being brought by the suspension.

Authorities have barred journalists from northern Rakhine and hence The Myanmar Times cannot independently verify the information.


From: The Myanmar Times (Myanmar)  DECember 21,2019

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