Myanmar junta orders internet blackout as protesters vow to keep up action


Authorities in Myanmar ordered the shutdown of mobile data on Friday and ordered Internet providers to cut wireless broadband to prevent protesting civilians from publicising the security forces’ excess use of authority on social media.

Undaunted by the bloody suppression of protests during the past two months, opponents of military rule in Myanmar marched, observed strikes and sought alternative ways to communicate after most users were cut off from the Internet.

Anti-coup groups have shared radio frequencies, mobile apps such as maps that work without a data connection, and tips for using SMS messages as an alternative to data services to communicate.

“In the following days, there are street protests. Do as many guerrilla strikes as you can. Please join,” Khin Sadar, a protest leader, said on Facebook in anticipation of the Internet blackout, referring to quick protests in unexpected places that break up when the security forces appear.

“Let’s listen to the radio again. Let’s make phone calls to each other too.”

The military did not announce or explain its order to providers to cut wireless broadband. Internet was available only on fixed lines, rare in Myanmar where most homes and businesses connect through wireless networks.

Authorities have been struggling to stifle an opposition demanding the restoration of civilian rule and release of elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other figures.

Violent incidents are occurring regularly in different parts of the country between the security forces and people set against military rule.

Adding to the chaos in the former British colony, hostilities between the armed forces and ethnic minority insurgents have broken out in at least two regions.

Despite the Internet shutdown, users were still able to upload pictures of marches, flower strikes and a funeral of a slain protester.

An image shared widely on social media showed an overhead view of hundreds of flickering candles on a dark road, forming the words: “We will never surrender.”

About 543 people have been killed in the uprising, according to the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group, which is tracking casualties and detentions. The military has repeatedly said those killed had instigated violence.

Western countries have condemned the coup and the violence and some have imposed limited sanctions.

Britain on Thursday blacklisted one of the military’s conglomerates, following similar measures from other Western countries. Fashion brand Next announced it had suspended orders from Myanmar’s factories.

While Southeast Asian countries have traditionally been reluctant to criticise or sanction their neighbour, there are signs of growing dismay with a country that has for decades raised international concerns over its domestic repression.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and most recently Thailand have called for an end to the violence.

Several Southeast Asian foreign ministers have been meeting separately this week with their counterpart from China, which is among the few countries able to influence Myanmar’s generals.

In an interview transcript made available late on Thursday, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he was “alarmed and appalled” at the violence. (Source: CNA)