Myanmar’s junta extended a social media blockade to Twitter and Instagram on Saturday in the face of a growing protest movement against the coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and halted a transition to democracy. Days after a temporary blockade on Facebook, authorities ordered internet providers to enforce the latest ban “until further notice”.
Demand for VPNs has soared in Myanmar, allowing some people to evade the ban, but users reported more general disruption to mobile data services that most people in the country of 53 million rely on for news and communications.
A statement said that some people are trying to use both platforms to spread fake news. Netblocks, a London-based service that tracks internet disruptions and shutdowns, said Saturday afternoon that “a near-total internet shutdown is now in effect” in Myanmar, with connectivity falling to just 16% of normal levels.
The communication blockages are a stark reminder of the progress Myanmar is in danger of losing after Monday’s coup plunged the nation back under direct military rule after a nearly decade-long move toward greater openness and democracy. During Myanmar’s previous five decades of military rule, the country was internationally isolated and communication with the outside world strictly controlled.
Suu Kyi’s five years as a leader since 2015 had been Myanmar’s most democratic period despite the military retaining broad powers over the government, the continued use of repressive colonial-era laws and the persecution of minority Rohingya Muslims.
In New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged on Friday that the United Nations will do everything it can to unite the international community and create conditions for the military coup in Myanmar to be reversed.
He told a news conference it is “absolutely essential” to carry out the Security Council’s calls for a return to democracy, respect for the results of the November elections, and release of all people detained by the military, “which means the reversal of the coup that took place.” Mr Guterres said Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, had the first contact with the military since the coup and expressed the U.N.’s strong opposition to the takeover.
According to U.N. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, she reiterated to Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice-General Soe Win “the Secretary-General’s strong condemnation of the military’s action that disrupted the democratic reforms that were taking place in the country.” In addition to 134 officials and lawmakers who were detained in the coup, another 18 activists also are being held, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar.