Myanmar must listen to those protesting internet shutdowns, not persecute them

Access Now, Article 19, Fortify Rights, and seven others are calling on authorities in Myanmar to immediately end criminal proceedings against, and release from detention, all those charged in relation to recent protests shining a spotlight on human rights violations and internet shutdowns in Rakhine and Chin states.

“Freedom of speech is a right, and when it’s snatched away from you, you have every right to demand it back,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “Students in Myanmar should not have to face court for protesting against internet shutdowns, nor should peaceful protest be a crime.”

Triggered by the ongoing campaign of isolation and censorship imposed by authorities through internet shutdowns, voting suppression, and other repressive means, in Chin and Rakhine states since July 2019, students took to the streets in protest. On September 9 and 10 this year, protesters waged a sticker campaign with messages including “Restore 4G Internet Access”, and “Stand With People in Rakhine” plastering public spaces.

Police arrested dozens of students, and today many are facing charges under sections 505(a) and (b) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, while others have already faced trial and sentencing, resulting in prison time.

“Again, the government of Myanmar’s relentless campaign against those seeking to exercise their internationally protected fundamental rights and speak up against mistreatment of minorities is front page news,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Senior International Counsel and Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now. “But the international community won’t stop until all rights are restored in Rakhine and Chin states, and access to a free, open internet across the whole country is guaranteed.”

The civil society coalition calls on authorities in Myanmar to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all of those arrested in relation to the recent student protests;
  • End criminal proceedings against all students targeted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly;
  • Immediately lift internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin states; and
  • Reform laws and the Penal Code to comply with international human rights law and standards.

The government of Myanmar has a long history of implementing targeted internet shutdowns, slowdowns, and throttling, and arresting those who speak out, such as poet and human rights activist Maung Saungkha who was convicted under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. 

Read the open letter.