Conflicts & War

Myanmar protesters re-emerge onto militarized streets after internet blackout

Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 15 (efe-epa).- Myanmar’s internet was restored on Monday morning after a nationwide blackout overnight and as protesters resumed their demonstrations against the military junta that took power on Feb. 1.

In Yangon, protesters held up placards outside the Central Bank alongside military tanks and vehicles as soldiers set up barricades.

Troops and armored vehicles were deployed across the country Sunday after a week of mass protests and a widespread civil disobedience movement that has severely impacted government services.

Residents inside the country had been recording demonstrations and late-night raids on social media, but these fell silent after 1 am on Monday, with “national [internet] connectivity at just 14% of ordinary levels following state-ordered information blackout,” internet monitor NetBlocks reported on Twitter.

From 9 am Monday internet was gradually restored, with NetBlocks saying “network data show(ed) national connectivity rising to ordinary levels after information blackout; social media still restricted for most users; incident duration ~8 hours.”

Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor, which has consistently and openly publicized orders it has received from the military junta since the coup, said on its website Sunday that it was “currently not possible for Telenor to disclose the directives we receive from the authorities.”

“We are gravely concerned with this development and recognize the impact this has on the local and international community’s ability to receive information,” it said on its website.

Ahead of the blackout late Sunday, a Facebook livestream showed security forces firing to disperse protesters outside a power plant in Kachin’s state capital of Myitkyina. It was not clear whether live rounds or rubber bullets were used or if there were any casualties.

After the blackout came into effect, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said it appeared the military were desperate.

“It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people of Myanmar: late night raids; mounting arrests; more rights stripped away; another Internet shutdown; military convoys entering communities. These are signs of desperation,” he said on Twitter.

“Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable,” he warned.

More than a dozen ambassadors to Myanmar issued a joint statement calling on security forces to refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians “protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government” as well as detention and ongoing arrests of leaders, activists and civil servants, and the harassment of journalists.

“We also denounce the military’s interruption of communications, as well as the restriction of the Myanmar people’s fundamental rights and basic legal protections,” it said. “We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity. The world is watching.”

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a statement calling for the military junta to uphold the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and said reports of continued violence, intimidation and harassment are “unacceptable,” while ongoing arrests of political leaders, government officials, civil society actors and media representatives, as well as internet restrictions, are “deeply concerning.”

He called on member states to “collectively and bilaterally exercise influence” and for the UN’s special envoy to be allowed to enter the country.

At least 400 people have been arrested and detained since the coup, with three jailed and 25 released, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar said in its latest daily report.

The military government justifies its seizure of power by alleging fraud in the November election, which was won in a landslide by deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally importing communications equipment and is reportedly under house arrest in Naypyitaw, as is deposed president Win Myint. EFE-EPA


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