Conflicts & War

Myanmar military cuts Facebook access as public opposition to coup grows

(Update 1: Adds Egeland comments.)

Yangon, Feb 4 (efe-epa).- Facebook access in Myanmar was restricted Thursday after the military junta ordered telecommunications providers to block the social network, and as public opposition to the coup grew.

The move to block Facebook came after the military seized power from the elected government on Monday.

“All mobile operators, international gateways and internet service providers in Myanmar received a directive on 3 February 2021 from the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) to temporarily block social media service Facebook,” Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor said in a statement, adding it would comply with the directive on Thursday “while expressing grave concerns regarding breach of human rights.”

It added that “while the directive has legal basis in Myanmar law, Telenor does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law.”

Facebook itself also confirmed the ban, which is reportedly to last until Feb. 7 for the sake of “stability.”

“Telecom providers in Myanmar have been ordered to temporarily block Facebook. We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with family and friends and access important information,” a Facebook spokesperson told EFE Thursday.

Facebook, Messenger and its messaging app WhatsApp as well as Instagram were all being blocked by state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), according to independent internet monitor NetBlocks.

“Facebook products are now restricted on multiple internet providers in #Myanmar as operators comply with an apparent blocking order,” NetBlocks said in a tweet.

A decrease in access through Telenor was also noted by NetBlocks.

An estimated 22 million people use Facebook in Myanmar out of a population of around 54 million.

Meanwhile, about a dozen people protested Thursday in Mandalay, the second most populated city in the country, to express their opposition to the army’s takeover and holding posters with slogans such as “People’s protest against military coup!”

At least two of the protesters were arrested by the authorities over the first demonstration to take place in the streets of the country, protest organizers reported on social media.

The military coup has generated an incipient civil disobedience movement in the country, joined by health personnel from more than 70 hospitals and medical centers who refuse to work for a dictatorship.

Thousands of residents of Yangon, the former capital and most populous city in the country, also protested Wednesday night by banging pots and pans for the second day in a row and with greater intensity.

From their balconies and on the streets, residents repeatedly banged pans and kitchen utensils, the sound of which mixed with blaring car horns. They ended by singing the national anthem and songs related to the historic 1988 protests.

Former United Nations coordinator for humanitarian affairs Jan Egeland said Thursday that the current political crisis in Myanmar “may end in a humanitarian disaster for a million vulnerable people” due to growing restrictions sending aid to the country.

“We fear that humanitarian needs will increase rapidly and with devastating consequences if the blockade of the delivery of humanitarian aid increases” Egeland, secretary-general at the Norwegian Council for Refugees said to NGOs working in the country.

The Norwegian diplomat said humanitarian work was being restricted in several Myanamr regions even before the political crisis, including Rakhine state, where part of the Rohingya minority still lives, although many fled to neighboring Bangladesh and nearby countries.

Egeland extended his call to the de facto authorities in Myanmar, international donors and important regional actors such as China or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to ensure the arrival of humanitarian aid is one of the short-term political priorities.

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