The network shutdown began on June 21, 2019, following an order to all mobile phone operators from the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications to temporarily stop mobile internet traffic in nine townships of Rakhine and Chin States. Rakhine and Chin states is marred by the ongoing conflicts between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, an armed group fighting for greater autonomy. Rakhine state captured the world’s attention in August 2017 with a military crackdown resulting in more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing the country to Bangladesh.
The government partially lifted the restriction in four townships in Rakhine and one in Chin on August 31, 2019, however, these were reinstated in February 2020 as a “security requirement”. On May 2, authorities lifted restrictions in Maungdaw township, leaving eight other townships without internet.
Independent United Nations, human rights experts, voiced grave concerns for the internet shutdown impacting over a million people in Rakhine state, threatening the safety of civilians, freedom of expression, right to information, participation, association, and assembly. The government defends its actions, believing it is necessary for peace between the military and the armed group.
The sign-on coordinated by Free Expression Myanmar “call(s) on the government to:
- Immediately reinstate access to the internet in the remaining eight townships in Rakhine and Chin States
- Review Articles 77 and 78 and other Articles of the 2013 Telecommunication Law, and amend them to be in line with human rights standards
- Refrain from restricting internet access and bandwidth restrictions in the future, either in these currently affected areas or elsewhere in Myanmar, including in other conflict areas, and during periods of elections.”
The IFJ said: “Widespread self-censorship and physical attacks on journalists have followed the shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states. The restricted access to information severely threatens the lives and freedoms of people in conflict situations. The IFJ condemns the disproportionate response and continued shutdown of internet and telecommunications, urging the government to reinstate access immediately.”