Access Now denounces the persecution of Maung Saungkha, a prominent Myanmar poet and activist, by authorities in Myanmar and demands an end to his continued harassment. Maung Saungkha is being accused of organizing “unlawful” protests to demand an end to the internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states in place since June 2019.
Lawyers will present arguments in Maung Saungkha’s case on Friday, August 21, and the court is expected to release its verdict in early September.
Maung Saungkha is facing charges for erecting a protest banner on June 21, 2020 — the day marking one year of ongoing internet shutdowns in Myanmar. The banner had an inscription “Is the internet being shut down to hide war crimes in Rakhine and killing people?” and was hung on an overpass in downtown Yangon. Authorities have charged Maung Saungkha under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which criminalizes unauthorized protests and carries a maximum three-month prison sentence, a fine, or both.
“We are deeply concerned about the use of the judiciary, which is supposed to uphold the rights of the people, to intimidate and persecute dissenting voices in Myanmar,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now.
In addition, two youths in Rakhine State are facing charges for participating in a virtual protest also marking the one-year anniversary of the internet shutdown, which has left over a million people without mobile internet connection and cut off access to critical sources of information amidst unrest and global pandemic.
Authorities have already sent nine individuals — including students in Arakan State and members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) in Yangon — to prison for protesting the shutdown in February this year.
“Internet shutdowns are a blunt-force tool that always unjustifiably violate human rights,” said Carolyn Tackett, Global Campaign Strategist at Access Now. “Rather than doubling down on suppressing free expression, the Myanmar government should immediately restore unrestricted access to the internet, release those in prison for defending human rights, and drop all charges against free expression advocates like Maung Saungkha.”
Activists and organizations around the world are working together to end internet shutdowns through the #KeepItOn campaign. You can learn about the coalition’s work, the human toll of internet shutdowns, and more through the Kill Switch podcast.