It was 101 days ago, amidst conflict and a refugee crisis in Rakhine, that the Myanmar government shut down the internet in at least nine townships in Rakhine and Chin States, by order of the Ministry of Transport and Communication. While access has now been restored in some areas, in at least four townships residents continue to suffer a deliberate internet blackout.
In justifying the original shutdowns, Mr. U Nyo Swe, chief engineer for Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications, insisted that they were for the benefit of the people. Yet research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand-in-hand. Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that shields human rights abuses from public scrutiny. Journalists and media workers cannot contact sources, gather information, or file stories without digital communication tools. Humanitarian efforts are obstructed. In a context where a region is plunged into protracted conflict, the cost of internet shutdowns can be insurmountable. Internet shutdowns, in Rakhine State or anywhere else around the world, do not benefit people; they place them at higher risk.
“Access to open and free communications is a fundamental need, as well as fundamental for the human rights of individuals,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Policy Director and Senior International Counsel at Access Now. “The government must restore the internet in all the townships on an urgent basis.”
Several civil society organizations based in Myanmar previously issued a joint statement asking the government to “immediately lift all restrictions on internet access and to restore telecommunication unconditionally to full capacity.” Telecommunications operators in Myanmar have expressed similar concerns and have asked for clarification on the rationale for the shutdown.
On behalf of more than 191 organizations from over 66 countries that make up the #KeepItOn coalition, we implore the government to restore access to the internet and keep it on.