Myanmar's digital dictatorship

Ooredoo’s plans to leave Myanmar hands military full control of nation’s telco sector — it must mitigate the human rights risks

Update: September 15, 2022 — Access Now is incredibly disappointed by the news that Ooredoo, the last remaining telecommunications company operating in Myanmar not owned or connected to the military junta, has announced its decision to exit Myanmar and sell its local operations to Nine Communications, a Singapore-based subsidiary of Link Family Office and military-linked Nyan Win.

August 14, 2022: Telecommunications company Ooredoo must put the safety of millions of people in Myanmar first, and not abandon control of the country’s last internationally-owned telco to the junta. The Qatari-owned provider has reportedly informed Myanmar regulators of its plans to exit the country. There are indications that it will likely sell its operations to companies with links to the military and potential ties to sanctioned actors and entities, likely leaving Myanmar with a telco sector entirely dominated by occupying forces.

Access Now and  four other organizations reached out to the Ooredoo Group’s CEO on August 11, 2022, to push for constructive engagement and dialogue with stakeholders to address and protect against imminent human rights risks of this sale. This was a follow-up to a first letter sent by Access Now to Ooredoo Myanmar’s CEO on July 21, 2022. The company has not responded to, or acknowledged, either communication.

“The Myanmar junta’s brazen brutality is evident from its recent and planned executions of pro-democracy activists. The military will ruthlessly track using any technological means it is allowed to access and target people to crush any resistance,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Senior International Counsel and Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now. “In this environment, all stakeholders, especially businesses, must conduct heightened due diligence to ensure that their actions will not facilitate the junta’s plan to eradicate dissent and destroy every platform for protest.”

The junta has already established tools to expand nationwide surveillance and censorship through CCTV monitoring, and IMEI and SIM card registration measures. If Ooredoo sells its Myanmar operations to a military-linked company, it will further fortify the junta’s control of online space by surrendering the personal data of approximately nine million customers to the new owners, opening their lives, and those of their networks, to military tracking and targeting. 

“If Ooredoo insists on an exit, it must do everything in its power to mitigate any and all human rights risks that may arise from this sale. The safety and survival of people in Myanmar should be the only priority,” said Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific Policy Analyst at Access Now. “To date, civil society’s calls for stakeholder engagement around this dangerous handover have been dismissed. It’s now time for Ooredoo to step up and listen.”

All companies — including telecommunications operators — must respect their human rights obligations in accordance with international standards. When companies engage in genuine stakeholder dialogue, they can understand and address the serious dangers that stakeholders most at risk have to bear. In the case of Ooredoo, this is a matter of life and death for people in Myanmar.

Read the full August 11 letter (English/Burmese) and the July 21 letter.