Myanmar’s junta blocked Facebook and other messaging services on February 4, ostensibly to ensure “stability” following a coup in which they overthrew the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, according to multiple publications. Officials announced on Facebook that the social media platform would be blocked for the sake of “stability” starting February 4 until the midnight of February 7. Half of Myanmar’s 54 million people use Facebook, which has also become a platform to express anger and dissent against the coup, reported BBC News.
Internet access monitoring website Netblocks reported that Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp servers were restricted on state-owned telecom provider MPT and multiple ISPs. “Data show variations by provider, with MPT targeting a wider range of the company’s services than Telenor,” Netblocks said. Some companies restricted access to the Facebook website and others blocked the wider suite of Facebook products and mobile apps, it added.
⚠️ Update: Network data show Facebook products now blocked across the board by major internet operators in #Myanmar; findings indicate significant variation in implementation as military compels companies to comply with banning order following coup 📉
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 4, 2021
Norwegian telecom company Telenor expressed “grave concerns” regarding “breach of human rights” around the blockage, while complying with the directive, per The Myanmar Times. While the directive has legal basis in Myanmar law, Telenor “does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law”.
The military junta, led by armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing, held a coup on February 1 and installed an 11-member junta, ending a brief period of civilian rule. Suu Kyi, who has been the country’s de-facto leader, was detained, along with President Win Myint, and charges were filed against them on Wednesday. Charges against Suu Kyi include possession of unlawful communication devices, i.e. walkie-talkies used by her security staff.
On the day of the coup, mobile internet services and certain phone services were suspended in the country. The Telenor Group said connectivity was restored by the morning of February 2 and that “it is important for us to enable open communication lines for our customers in Myanmar”.
The move to ban Facebook comes amidst international pressure on the junta to accept the results of the November elections, which placed Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is power. The NLD won 80% of the country’s vote in the November polls, a result which the military refused to accept, alleging fraud in voting.
The Telenor Group told Reuters that it had no choice but to comply with the directive to block Facebook. “While the directive has basis in Myanmar law, Telenor does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law,” it said in a statement to the publication. A Facebook spokesman urged authorities to restore connectivity “so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information”.
— Thompson Chau (@tchau01) February 3, 2021
Meanwhile, Facebook had earlier removed the page of junta-owned Myawaddy TV Network, stating that it was linked to one of the military-linked organisations banned in 2018 for violating its policies against violence and hate, per the Myanmar Times.
On February 3, internet services were restored in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin states. The network in Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Myabon, Paletwa, Ponnagyun, Myauk-U, Kyauktaw and Minbya was restored after “all operators received a directive to open from the Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications Department”, the Telenor Group said in a statement. Internet was restored once it was first cut off in these areas in June 2019.