YANGON— Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said Tuesday that the internet shutdown in parts of conflict-torn Rakhine State and neighboring Chin State is still required in order to prevent leaks of military secrets and the spread of racial hatred on social media.
The internet shutdown was imposed in eight townships in Rakhine State and Chin State’s Paletwa Township last June at the request of the military amid intensifying clashes with the Arakan Army (AA). Authorities later lifted the restrictions for Maungdaw Township.
With the blackout turning one year old on Sunday, rights groups and activists are increasingly calling that the government end the internet shutdown in the remaining eight townships as it negatively affects the daily lives of approximately 1.4 million people, especially in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said during a military press conference on Tuesday that the internet ban was required because information on troop movements in the region was leaking online and disinformation and racial hate speech were widespread on social media.
“For the time being, we won’t recommend [the government] restore internet [in the remaining townships],” the spokesman added, replying to The Irrawaddy’s question over the plan to resume the internet access.
Ethnic affairs and Rakhine State analyst U Maung Maung Soe said that the internet ban shouldn’t be imposed based on the spread of hate speech as the internet is widely used as a tool for communication, job opportunities, education, health and receiving information.
He added that if the ban is also aimed at preventing leaks of military secrets, the military should also review the results of the ban so far, to see whether the internet shutdown really works to prevent such leaks.
Over 100 local and international rights groups and diplomatic missions called on Sunday to end the blackout. Activists from different cities wearing T-shirts saying “Oppose internet oppression” posted their pictures on social media and held demonstrations in Yangon and in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, as part of a campaign to demand that the government lift the restrictions.
Local police opened cases against five rights activists in Yangon who denounced the internet shutdown by hanging posters on an overpass in the city’s downtown area and against a youth activist in Rakhine under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law.
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