header image: pushing back against IMEI registration in Myanmar

The world must bring down Myanmar’s digital iron curtain

Today, February 1, marks three years since Myanmar’s junta seized power in a violent and deadly coup. Since then, it has escalated its attacks, both online and offline, perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people in Myanmar. Through a joint statement, Access Now and local and international civil society actors are calling on the international community to stand with the people, offering not only solidarity, but also concrete resources to resist digital oppression.

The people of Myanmar continue to fight against the brutal military regime, to bring down Myanmar’s digital iron curtain. 2024 is a critical year where the success of the resistance will allow the people to start designing a human rights-respecting roadmap for the country. WAI PHYO MYINT, ASIA PACIFIC ANALYST AT ACCESS NOW

Three years into the coup, the military’s firm grip on Myanmar’s telecommunications infrastructure empowers them to weaponise internet shutdowns in regions where anti-coup resistance is strong. Reports reveal that, prior to launching airstrikes on towns and villages, the military frequently employs jamming devices installed on scout aircrafts to disrupt connectivity. Operating under the guise of e-government projects, the regime is also raising funds and collecting resources to strengthen its extensive surveillance infrastructure. This includes data collection projects like the national census, e-ID system, and the establishment of a national database. An Internet Monitoring Committee now exists so that they can prosecute those who post views against the regime. The junta also exploits the vicious power of the law to legitimise its actions, locking up those who dare to resist; most recently Shin Daewe, a documentary filmmaker, received a life sentence under the Anti-Terrorism Law.

Shutdowns and surveillance in Myanmar are used to facilitate brutal human rights violations. Governments and businesses enabling these constant communications blackouts and the surveillance state are co-conspirators of authoritarian actors and must be held accountable. GOLDA S. BENJAMIN, ASIA PACIFIC CAMPAIGNER AT ACCESS NOW

Access Now, alongside Myanmar Internet Project, EngageMedia, and others, urges the international community to:

  • Recognise and fund alternative access to the internet and other communication channels as critical tools for protecting lives and fundamental human rights;
  • Cut off or prevent financial, technical, and other forms of support that benefit the military’s massive surveillance infrastructure; and
  • Push tech and telecom companies to uphold human rights and make them accountable when they fail to provide effective remedy for violations.

Furthermore, businesses must exercise heightened due diligence to ensure that their products and services are not implicated in human rights violations. Simultaneously, they must allocate resources to engage in genuine public consultations when developing safeguards and implementing remedies for harms committed in Myanmar.