Conflicts & War

Myanmar junta blocks internet countrywide as thousands protest military coup

Update 1: Adds nationwide internet outage, Amnesty International, Telenor Group quotes

Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 6 (efe-epa).- Myanmar’s military junta ordered a national scale internet outage Saturday, as massive demonstrations against Monday’s coup were held, the country’s Telenor Group communications service said in a statement.

The live social network broadcast of the protests was suddenly interrupted, while several people confirmed to EFE that communications via mobile applications had fallen, although telephone lines remain operative.

“Telenor Group views this development with deep concern. We have emphasized to the authorities that access to telecom services should be maintained at all times, especially during times of conflict, to ensure people’s basic right to freedom of expression and access to information,” the Saturday statement read. “We deeply regret the impact the shutdown has on the people in Myanmar.”

NGO Amnesty International said the military government has ordered all telecommunications companies to shut down the internet until Monday.

“The military must restore all telecommunications immediately and stop endangering people’s rights. All mobile operators and telecommunications providers in Burma must request urgent clarification from the authorities,” Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty’s regional deputy director of Myanmar, said in a statement.

Thousands took Saturday to the streets of Yangon, the former capital and largest city, to protest the coup the army launched earlier this week.

A column of people marched down one of the main avenues of the city with proclamations in favor of democracy and in opposition to the military junta, led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Police presence was small and unable to do disperse the massive influx of people, donning red garments or scarves, representing the National League for Democracy (LND) party of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

She has been under house arrest since Monday and in “good health,” an NLD spokesperson said on social media Friday night.

The army has tried to stop the civil disobedience movement by ordering telecommunications companies to block access to Facebook, used by about half of the 54 million people in Myanmar. Saturday also saw internet connection interruptions.

Doctors, professors, university students, officials from various ministries and workers from various sectors, among others, had already demonstrated in opposition to the putsch. Protests organized Saturday in Yangon are the largest to date against the military coup.

An army commander was arrested after expressing, along with an undetermined number of officers and soldiers, his rejection of the coup, the first visible act of dissent inside the military following Monday’s events.

Several sources informed EFE of the arrest of Kyaw Soe Tun, head of the 903 battalion of field engineers, in the northeastern Shan state.

“By joining the Army, we took an oath to protect citizens, starting today and together with the people of Myanamr we will resist against the military dictatorship. We are the country’s army, we are not puppets of dictators,” read a statement from the battalion of about 200 people, to which EFE had access.

“Since Saturday morning, the national connection has dropped 54 percent above the usual levels, users are experiencing difficulties connecting to the internet,” monitoring portal Netblocks said.

Facebook, which has also suffered a blockage on other platforms such as Instagram or WhatsApp and Twitter has also expressed concern about the situation.

Despite elections being held and a process started in 2011 toward a “disciplined democracy,” as the army call it, the military still maintained extensive control over the political and economic aspects of the country.

It alleges massive fraud in the November elections, where the NLD swept by winning 83 percent of parliamentary seats.

The military, who already ruled the country from 1962 to 2011, have arrested at least 147 people, including Suu Kyi and deposed president Win Myint. EFE-EPA

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