Myanmar’s new military-led government has blocked Instagram and Twitter in the country in an attempt to squash citizen resistance to the coup it staged earlier this week that ousted the country’s democratically elected government.
The new restrictions were announced on Friday by Telenor, an internet provider with headquarters in Norway, which stated that all mobile operators, international gateways, and internet service providers in Myanmar received a directive from the country’s Ministry of Transport and Communications to block the social media networks until further notice.
The move comes just days after the new government blocked Facebook, which is estimated to be used by roughly half of the country’s 55 million people. It is one of the most popular forms of communication in Myanmar.
In a statement, Telenor said that while the order had a legal basis in Myanmar’s telecommunications law, it had challenged the “necessity and proportionality of the directive” in its response to the ministry. The company also highlighted that the directive violated 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,” Telenor said.
In addition to blocking Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, reports also surfaced that the country was attempting to block out the internet entirely. NetBlocks, an internet observatory that tracks disruptions and shutdowns, on Saturday said that the country was in the midst of a second nationwide internet blackout as of 10 a.m. local time. At that time, connectivity fell to 54% of ordinary levels and users reported difficulty getting online.
In an update, NetBlocks said that a “near-total internet shutdown” was in effect in Myanmar.
“Network data show a collapse of connectivity to 16% of ordinary levels from ~2 pm local time,” the organisation said on Twitter. “The information blackout is likely to severely limit coverage of anti-coup protests”
The organisation attributed the decrease in connectivity to a combination of technical restrictions and apparent power cuts.
Update: A near-total internet shutdown is now in effect in #Myanmar.
Network data show a collapse of connectivity to 16% of ordinary levels from ~2 pm local time ????
The information blackout is likely to severely limit coverage of anti-coup protests ????
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 6, 2021
Telenor confirmed the blackout efforts in a statement on Saturday. The company said that the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications had directed all mobile operators to temporarily shut down the data network in the country. Nonetheless, voice and SMS services remain enabled.
Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s director of public policy for APAC emerging countries, told Gizmodo in an emailed statement that the social network urged the authorities to reverse their decision.
“We are extremely concerned by orders to shut down the internet in Myanmar and we strongly urge the authorities to unblock access immediately,” Frankel said. “At this critical time, the people of Myanmar need access to important information and to be able to communicate with their loved ones.”
Twitter also expressed concern about the ban in a statement to Gizmodo.
“We’re deeply concerned about the order to block Internet services in Myanmar,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “It undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard. The Open Internet is increasingly under threat around the world. We will continue to advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns.”
Protests against the coup that also called for the release of Myanmar’s democratically elected officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s civilian leader, have been growing in recent days. She was placed under house arrest for violating an obscure import law. Suu Kyi’s crime: illegally importing walkie-talkies. While the minor offence may sound absurd, it’s enough to put her in prison for up to three years.
The military has maintained that it acted in the best interests of its citizens and that the country’s recent elections in November had seen massive voter fraud. Myanmar’s elections last year gave Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, an overwhelming victory and majority. The military-backed group, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, did poorly. The group claims it was due to voting irregularities.