Facebook blocked by Myanmar junta days after coup in bid to shut down dissent
- A letter posted online by the Ministry of Communications and Information said services would be unavailable until February 7 for the sake of ‘stability’
- Signs of public anger over the military takeover are flickering in Myanmar after calls for protest were made on social media
Inside the country opposition to the junta had emerged very strongly on Facebook, which is the main internet platform for much of the country and underpins communications for business and government.
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The Ministry of Communications and Information said Facebook, used by half of Myanmar’s 53 million people, would be blocked until February 7.
“Currently the people who are troubling the country’s stability … are spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook,” the ministry said in a letter.
Disruptions were patchy however. Some people found they could still access Facebook even if connections were slow. Some used VPNs to evade the blockage.
Suu Kyi has not been seen since her arrest in the early hours of Monday morning along with other top leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD). An NLD official has said she is under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, but there has been no word on her whereabouts from the junta.
The NLD won about 80 per cent of the vote in the November 8 polls, according to the election commission, a result the military has refused to accept, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.
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The chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Charles Santiago, said the charges against Suu Kyi were ludicrous.
“This is an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimise their illegal power grab,” he said in a statement.
In court documents, police requested Suu Kyi’s detention “in order to question witnesses, request evidence and seek legal counsel after questioning the defendant”.
A separate document showed police filed charges against ousted President Win Myint, who was also detained on Monday, for violating protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led the country’s democracy movement, and she remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees.
The military had ruled Myanmar from 1962 until Suu Kyi’s party came to power in 2015 under a constitution that guarantees the generals a major role in government.
The junta headed by Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing has declared a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hold fair elections, but has not said when.
Norway’s Telenor Asa, Myanmar’s leading mobile network operator, said it had no choice but to comply with the directive to block Facebook.
“While the directive has basis in Myanmar law, Telenor does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law,” it said in a statement.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone urged authorities to restore connectivity “so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information”.
On Twitter, which is less popular in Myanmar and remained available, #CivilDisobedienceMovement was the top trending hashtag in the country. Close behind was #JusticeForMyanmar.