Lawmakers Submit Urgent Proposal to Resume Internet Services in N. Rakhine

By Min Aung Khine 25 June 2019

SITTWE—An urgent proposal regarding the shutdown of internet services in eight townships in Rakhine State was submitted to the state parliament on Monday.

Lawmaker U Hla Thein Aung of Minbya Township submitted the proposal urging the Union government to resume internet services in eight Rakhine townships where the Tatmadaw (or Myanmar Army) and the Arakan Army are fighting.

“There are human rights violations and violence in those townships, and I am concerned that the shutdown of internet with which social media is operated will result in increased human rights violations and violence. That’s why I submitted this proposal,” U Hla Thein Aung told The Irrawaddy.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications, citing concerns for security and public interest, ordered telecom companies to shut down internet services in eight townships in Rakhine State—Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Myebon— and Chin State’s Paletwa Township under Section 77 of Telecommunications Law as of June 21.

While the local people are bearing the brunt of armed conflicts, the shutdown of internet services will encourage human rights violations and violence, U Hla Thein Aung argued at the parliament.

“Even when there is internet and social media, locals in conflict areas are arrested on suspicion and tortured. It is important that both people and the government know these situations so that the government can make real-time responses. Without internet, it is impossible to know what is happening in the area,” said lawmaker U Tun Aung Thein of Buthidaung Township as he seconded the proposal.

The Rakhine State parliament last week also approved a proposal that urged the state government to assist journalists with their reporting trips so that they can report correctly while reports released by the authorities differ from the real situation on the ground.

“Today, all the people—young and old, businessmen and students—use the internet and social media. The internet shutdown is like a news blackout. Will the fighting cease due to internet shutdown? I want the government to reconsider it,” lawmaker U Maung Maung of Kyauktaw Township told The Irrawaddy.

Internet services will resume when stability is restored in the area, the chief engineer of Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) U Myo Swe.

Though phone calls and SMS services are still available in those townships, telephone lines are not functioning properly, some Rakhine locals told The Irrawaddy.

Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law allows the Ministry of Transport and Communications to suspend a telecommunications service in case of an emergency, with the approval of the Union government, but it is left to the discretion of the ministry whether or not to suspend the service, U Hla Thein Aung said.

The Rakhine state parliament approved to debate U Hla Thein Aung’s proposal as no one raised an objection.

Clashes erupted between the Myanmar military and the AA in November 2018. Since then, the fighting has intensified and spread to Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun and Mrauk-U townships in northern Rakhine.

Security authorities believe some local Arakanese have reported Tatmadaw troop movements and locations to the AA via the internet using smartphones. There have long been calls on social media for an internet shutdown in the area.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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