Internet Ban Reimposed in Five Townships in Western Myanmar

By Nan Lwin 4 February 2020

YANGON—Myanmar authorities have reimposed a ban on internet services in five townships in conflict-torn western Myanmar where government troops are fighting Arakan Army rebels, one of the country’s leading telecom operators announced Monday.

Telenor Myanmar said the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MOTC) had ordered it and Myanmar’s other mobile operators—Myanma Posts and Telecommunications, Ooredoo and Mytel—to again suspend mobile internet traffic in five townships in Rakhine and Chin states.

“As the basis for its order, the MOTC cited security requirements and the public interest,” Telenor said.

The shutdown went into effect at 10 p.m. on Feb. 3.

The five townships—Rakhine’s Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Myebon, and Chin’s Paletwa—were subject to a government-imposed data network shutdown from June 20 to Aug. 31 last year.

The latest order limits the duration of the shutdown in the five townships to three months, Telenor said.

Internet services in the four other townships in Rakhine—Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Minbya—have been restricted since June 2019.

Telenor said customers in the affected areas were being informed of the resumed shutdown via SMS. The order does not affect voice and SMS services.

The company will continue its dialogue with Myanmar authorities in order to try and have services restored, the operator said.

As of Tuesday, the government had not made any announcement regarding the resumption of the internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin states.

During the previous shutdown, Myanma Post and Telecommunications (MPT) told The Irrawaddy that the order was issued under Article 77 of the 2013 Telecommunications Law, which permits the suspension of a telecommunications service “when an emergency situation arises.”

Maung Saung Kha, director of Athan, an organization promoting the right to freedom of expression, told The Irrawaddy, “We completely condemn the government’s action banning the internet in those areas.”

Maung Saung Kha said civil society organizations (CSOs) and right groups have been collecting signatures for an open letter to the President and Myanmar government urging an end to the internet ban in the four other townships in Rakhine where services have been restricted for nearly seven months.

“The action shows that the government ignores the demands of CSOs, rights groups and local people,” Maung Saung Kha said.

Last year, a number of human rights groups along with international and local civil society groups expressed concern over the impacts of the internet shutdown, particularly on civilian safety amid the ongoing conflict. The group said the shutdown had reduced the availability of information about the armed conflict in the area for civilians.

The groups said removal of internet services, including access to Facebook, reduced the ability of emergency services to communicate with and locate people, and undermined authorities’ ability to disseminate important information when it was necessary that people move for their own safety. They also warned that less information will be available for those seeking to defend residents’ human rights, including elected members of Parliament, human rights defenders and the media.

Since November, fighting has intensified in Rakhine between the military and the Arakan Army, driving tens of thousands of civilians from their homes.

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