Myanmar’s military has begun disrupting access to Facebook while trying to remove signs of dissent, days after it toppled the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Facebook, one of the most popular media outlets in Myanmar, has been used to coordinate a civil disobedience campaign in which health workers from dozens of hospitals left their jobs on Wednesday to protest against the army’s actions. It has also been used to share plans for nighttime protests, where residents have made their way to their balconies to bang on pots and pans, a symbolic act to drive away evil.
The Ministry of Communications and Information said Facebook, used by half of Myanmar’s 53 million people, would be blocked until Sunday, adding that people were “disturbing the stability of the country” by using the network to spread “news. false and misinformation “.
Facebook confirmed that it was aware of the outage, while NetBlocks, which monitors internet outages around the world, said that service providers in Myanmar were also blocking or restricting access to Instagram and WhatsApp, which are also owned by Facebook.
Reuters reported that attempts to block social media were spotty, however, with some still being able to access the sites. Others used offloaded virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent the restrictions.
Despite the army’s attempt to clamp down on activism, protests have continued to erupt. On Thursday the first street protest against the military coup took place in the city of Mandalay, where a small group chanted: “Our arrested leaders: release now, release now.” The group was quickly chased away by riot police, the Myanmar Now news site reported.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested during a raid Monday morning, was charged Wednesday with possession of illegally imported walkie-talkies, which could carry a two-year prison sentence. She has not been seen publicly since her arrest.
Messages shared on Facebook before the nightly protests this week told people to come out onto their balconies and shout, “We pray that Aung San Suu Kyi is healthy”; “We pray for Myanmar to receive freedom”; and “We pray that the military control will end.”
The army has justified its inauguration by accusing Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) of fraud in the November elections, a claim that has been dismissed by observers. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party secured an overwhelming 396 of the 476 seats in the recent vote, a majority even stronger than in 2015, when it was brought to power in a wave of optimism when the country held its first open elections. in decades.
The United Nations is committed to increasing international pressure to ensure that the result of the vote is respected. “We will do everything we can to mobilize all key players and the international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure this coup fails,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “It is absolutely unacceptable after the elections, elections that I believe were carried out normally, and after a long period of transition.”
The United States also described the situation as a priority and said it was reviewing possible sanctions in response.
The coup occurred just a decade after the military, which ruled Myanmar for some 50 years, agreed to share power with civilian leaders.
When asked about the accusation of Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, Guterres said: “If we can accuse her of something, [it] it’s that I was too close to the military, it’s that I was protecting the military too much ”.
Although Aung San Suu Kyi is revered at home, her international reputation has been seriously undermined by her decision to defend Myanmar from charges of genocide.
“I hope that democracy can advance again in Myanmar, but for that all the prisoners must be released, constitutional order must be restored,” said Guterres.
The UN chief also regretted that the security council was unable to agree on a common statement on the Myanmar coup, following an emergency meeting initiated by Britain.
According to a draft text proposed earlier in the week for negotiation and obtained by AFP, the security council would express its deep concern and condemn the coup, and would demand from the military “the immediate release of those illegally detained.”
The council would also demand that the one-year state of emergency be lifted.
As of Wednesday night, according to diplomats, negotiations continued between the 15 council members, particularly with China and Russia, which on Tuesday blocked the adoption of the declaration.
The Myanmar military has claimed that the coup is in line with the country’s constitution. Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, now head of a new cabinet, defended the military action as “inevitable” on Tuesday. Civilian leaders, he said, had not listened to the army’s complaints about electoral fraud.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism