Elections in Myanmar: government must reinstate full internet, keep it on

The government of Myanmar has a long history of implementing targeted internet shutdowns, slowdowns, and throttling. With the country’s federal election scheduled for November 8, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition are urgently appealing to Myanmar authorities — the executive branch and the Union Election Commission — to ensure stable and open internet and digital communication channels across all states before, during, and after this critical time in the nation’s democracy. 

“Cutting access to the internet has been the go-to tool for authorities in Myanmar,” said Berhan Taye, Africa Policy Manager and Global Internet Shutdowns Lead at Access Now. “By choosing to extend the shutdown beyond elections in Rakhin and Chin States, the Myanmar government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and security officials, are arbitrarily restricting voters’ right to inform themselves, make up their own minds, and head to the polls without interference. Access to a reliable, secure, and open internet is key for a democratic election.”

“Enough is enough. The government of Myanmar must put an end to the ongoing internet shutdowns and targeting of free speech,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now. “What happens when the world can’t watch Myanmar during the election period, when voters cannot relay what’s going on in their localities during, and right after, the polls? How can possible human rights abuses be revealed and checked in a country already being investigated by international courts?”

Civil society is calling on the government of Myanmar to:

  • Lift the internet shutdowns imposed in Rakhine and Chin states and ensure the internet remains accessible in the rest of the Republic of Myanmar;
  • Publicly assure the people of the Republic of Myanmar that the internet and all social media platforms will be on during and after the elections; and
  • Order internet service providers to provide quality, secure, free and open internet  including 3G and 4G across the country throughout the elections and inform internet users of any disruptions and work around the clock to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive.

Predominantly Rohingya, residents in Myanmar’s Chin and Rakhine states have been suffering through lengthy internet shutdowns and slowdowns since June 2019. As another obstacle to internet access for minority communities, authorities in Myanmar deactivated more than 34 million SIM cards this year, after people failed to reregister them with National Registration Card (NRC) numbers. Many Rohingya people in Myanmar are stateless, and do not have NRC numbers. Those who speak up against this are also being persecuted, and in September this year, Maung Saungkha, a prominent Myanmar poet and activist, was charged for raising a banner in a peaceful act of protest against a year of internet shutdowns.

Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition’s call echoes that of four national civil society organizations, who urge the Myanmar government to restore 3G and 4G in Rakhine and Chin States and to refrain from imposing further network disruptions.