In 2022, authorities across the globe shut down the internet to attack human rights across 35 countries at least 187 times. The junta shut down the internet at least seven times in Myanmar to crush resistance and provide cover for its ferocious acts of violence. The military deployed these shutdowns concurrently and erratically, making access an exception rather than the norm across the country.
Launching today, February 28, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition’s new report, Weapons of control, shields of impunity: Internet shutdowns in 2022, reveals and unpacks the global resurgence of internet shutdowns to pre-pandemic levels over the span of one catastrophic year for human rights, particularly in Myanmar. Read the full report, global snapshot, and Asia Pacific deep dive.
“Governments wield internet shutdowns as weapons of control and shields of impunity,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “In Myanmar, network disruptions are munitions of war, and the military’s arsenal of tools is designed to entrench online dictatorship. Shutdowns facilitate and shroud serious human rights violations across the country, many of which could amount to war crimes.”
Key findings include:
- The scope: all 330 townships were subjected to shutdowns at least once in 2022, and more than 50 townships will have been cut off for more than a year;
- The length: the ongoing shutdown in Hpakant township in Kachin has reportedly continued for more than 18 months;
- The targeting: the junta targeted areas where resistance is strongest — Sagaing, Magway, and Chin — to isolate and prevent documentation of its violence;
- The impunity: the military has consolidated control of all telecommunications providers, expanded surveillance infrastructure, and shut down mobile and internet connections, making it difficult to verify the duration and frequency of shutdowns — the total numbers are very likely higher;
- The arsenal: shutdowns are combined with the junta’s control of people’s phone data, expanded use of surveillance tools, and random phone checks; and
- The positives: increasingly, governments and global bodies are publicly condemning the weaponization of internet shutdowns, and the #KeepItOn coalition grew to over 300 members in 105 countries.
In 2022, governments and other actors shut down the internet across the Asia Pacific region in: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
“Internet shutdowns will not force people in Myanmar to give up,” said Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific Policy Analyst at Access Now. “The junta’s system of methodical digital offensives will not crush people’s resistance. . The international community must continue to support the people of Myanmar, and stand in solidarity with their fight to reclaim their country from the grip of the military.”