Myanmar has reimposed internet shutdown in parts of conflict-torn western states Rakhine and Chin, according to reports from Reuters and Myanmar Times. Norwegian telecom company Telenor Group said Myanmar’s transport and communications ministry directed telecom companies to “temporarily” suspended mobile internet services in five Rakhine and Chin townships, citing “security requirements and public interest”.
The government’s latest directive limits the blackout to three months. The shutdown went into effect on February 3 at 10 pm local time. Customers were informed of the internet suspension via SMS, Telenor Myanmar told The Irrawaddy. The order does not affect voice and SMS services. “Telenor Group believes in open communication and has repeatedly emphasised that freedom of expression through access to telecoms services should be maintained for humanitarian purposes, especially during times of conflict,” the operator told the publication.
The areas were under a months-long internet suspension in 2019: The five areas in question — Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Myebon townships in Rakhine and Paletwa township in Chin — were under an internet blackout from June to August 2019. The shutdown was lifted in September amid peace talks seeking to end clashes between government troops and ethnic insurgent groups.
Internet services in other parts have been suspended for over half a year: Internet services in the four other townships in Rakhine — Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Minbya — continue to be restricted since June 2019. On September 29, the United Nations in Myanmar urged the government to end the internet shutdown in these five states, citing disruption in humanitarian work and the internet as a tool for access to information and freedom of expression.
Shutdowns were first ordered in June 2019: Myanmar’s communications ministry had ordered telecom companies to shut down internet services in the nine townships on June 21, citing security concerns and general public interest under Section 77 of the country’s Telecommunications Law. The directive was made in wake of ongoing clashes there between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army. The current shutdown also comes amid escalation in violence, per Reuters, with two women killed and seven other wounded last month when a Rohingya village came under artillery fire.
According to The Irrawaddy, Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law states that in emergency situations the ministry may, to protect the public interest, direct a licensee to suspend a telecommunications service, to intercept or not to operate any specific form of communication, to obtain necessary information and communications, or temporarily take control of the telecommunications service and telecommunications equipment.