Myanmar internet shutdowns

Internet shutdowns shroud and facilitate brutality of Myanmar junta’s airstrike in Hpakant township

Content note: This statement contains references to indiscriminate violence and acts potentially amounting to mass murder, and war crimes.

Access Now condemns the ongoing war crimes committed by the military junta in Myanmar, and its use of internet shutdowns to conceal the atrocities. More than 80 people are dead and a hundred more injured after the military dropped four bombs at a gathering of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) at approximately 20:30 local time on 23 October. The deliberate communication blackout meant local media were only able to report on the disaster hours later on 24 October. People on the ground still struggle to get updated information on the number of casualties and their conditions because of ongoing shutdowns.

“Mobile internet in Hpakant has been shut down for over 430 days. Since last week, curfew-style blocking of wifi is cutting off the region for approximately 17 hours every day, starting at 17:00, and only reconnecting at 10:00 the next day,” said Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific Policy Analyst at Access Now.When the bombs dropped on Sunday evening, the mostly-civilian crowd was left isolated, unable to contact friends and family to seek help and urgent medical attention. It was a targeted and brutal massacre, and shutting down the internet was a deliberate assurance that the extent of the military’s atrocities would be buried.”

Access Now documents internet shutdowns globally — recognizing that in recent years, shutdowns have become more sophisticated, lasting longer, harming more people, and targeting vulnerable groups. In 2021, Myanmar ranked 2nd in the world in terms of the number of shutdowns that year. 

“Internet shutdowns facilitate impunity in Myanmar and serious violations of human rights, including freedom of expression, association, liberty, security, privacy and even the right to life,” said Golda Benjamin, Asia Pacific Campaigner at Access Now. “When people are cut off from life-saving communications platforms, they are also deprived of their right to tell their story to the world, and their agency  to shine a global spotlight on the suffering — and courage — of the people of Myanmar.”

The systematic blockings in Myanmar often coincide with protests and burning of villages known to be opposition strongholds. Internet shutdowns violate human rights and global, coordinated action is needed to continue monitoring, documenting, and pushing back against these disruptions.