Bangladesh has asked telecom operators to cut access to 3G, 4G and LTE internet services in Rohingya camp areas of Teknaf and Ukhia, reports The Globe Post. 2G services remain active but 2G speeds are barely enough to access the internet. Last week, the government had asked telecom operators to shut down mobile phone services and to stop selling SIM cards in the camps, citing security threats and illegal phone use.
Telecom operators were given seven days to submit reports to the government on the actions they took to shut down networks in the camp. This crackdown came a few days after Rohingyas rallied on the two-year anniversary of their exodus. Bangladesh had tried to ban mobile phones in Rohingya camps in 2017, but this was never wholly enforced; mobile phones and SIM cards had remained easily available. Rohingyas camps in Myanmar are largely situated in Rakhine state, and a communications blackout in Bangladesh will completely isolate them from their families, reported Reuters. The Myanmar government had also shut down internet services in two western states of Rakhine and Chin in June 2019, and only partially restored internet access in August.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the internet restriction has “made matters worse” and urged the Bangladesh government to lift it. Even though Myanmar and Bangladesh reached an agreement in 2018 to repatriate Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to Myanmar, the November 2018 attempt failed. A second such attempt, made in August 2019, also failed. Despite this agreement, “virtually” none of the 740,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Myanmar have returned. The UN has also called for Myanmar military officials to be investigated for genocide.
Bangladesh stopped high-speed internet a day before elections: In 2018, the Bangladesh government had suspended high-speed internet services in the country a day before national elections were held in December. At the time, the BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission) had said the restriction was imposed to “prevent rumors and propaganda surrounding the vote”.