Myanmar Junta Blocks Facebook, VPNs as The UN Security Council Voices ‘Deep Concern’

Myanmar’s military junta has blocked access to Facebook as civil resistance grows to the army coup that deposed de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government,…

Myanmar’s military junta has blocked access to Facebook as civil resistance grows to the army coup that deposed de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government, telecoms authorities said Thursday as the U.N. Security Council expressed concern about the takeover and called for the release of those detained.

The U.N. Security Council expressed “deep concern at the declaration of the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar by the military on 1 February and the arbitrary detention of members of the Government, including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and others,” the Council said in a statement that called for the release of detainees.

“The members of the Security Council expressed concern at the restrictions on civil society, journalists and media workers,” said a press statement that fell short of condemnation after days of deliberations.

Myanmar’s military seized power Monday hours before parliament was scheduled to convene new sessions and detained key politicians, asserting a state of emergency was necessary to address accusations of election fraud following the November 2020 vote that was swept by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

The junta issued a directive ordering internet service providers in the country, including state-owned telecom MPT and other companies such as Norway’s Telenor ASA, to cut off access to the social media platform and its related services — Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

An additional order barred the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) used to circumvent internet blockages, but many in Myanmar reported using the proxy links to access Facebook.

About half of Myanmar’s 54 million citizens rely on Facebook for internet access and to get news, communicate, and recently to express discontent with the military power grab. Some users in Myanmar reported they were not able to access several Facebook services.

Facebook will be blocked until Feb. 7 for reasons of stability, the Ministry of Communications and Information said in an online statement.

“We are aware that access to Facebook is currently disrupted for some people,” said a Facebook company spokesperson in an email to RFA. “We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information.”

The move drew criticism from New York-based Human Rights Watch, which called it a blow to freedom of expression in Myanmar

“The Myanmar military junta’s order to suspend Facebook and other communication apps is a direct blow to freedom of expression and the rights of the people to speak out and share information, and should be rescinded immediately,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, in an email.

“The junta is just trying to shut down any online criticism of its rights abusing actions to destroy Burmese democracy and cripple mass mobilization efforts by citizens angered and willing to protest against the military’s seizure of power,” he said.

HRW called on governments around the world to hold accountable the State Administrative Council, as the military junta is known, and its leaders, starting with targeted sanctions.

The military has taken to Facebook in the past to promote its own political agenda, with the profile of defense forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing drawing hundreds of thousands of followers before Facebook suspended it along with other military accounts following the army’s brutal 2017 crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

The campaign of terror left thousands dead — the victims of indiscriminate killings, torture, gang rapes, and village burnings — while more than 740,000 others fled across the border and into Bangladesh.

The military regime led by Min Aung Hlaing has declared a one-year state of emergency during which the junta will direct state and legislative functions. It has said that elections will be held at the end of the period with power turned over to the winner.

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