Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), a local rights group advocating freedom of expression, along with three other civil society groups, voiced their concerns on Wednesday urging the Myanmar government to restore 3G and 4G in the Rakhine and Chin states.
The statement came shortly after Telenor, one of the leading telecom operators in the country, told local media Myanmar Times on October 30, nine days before the general election on November 8, that a government directive was imposed to curtail the 3G and 4G internet access in eight townships of western Myanmar—affecting around 1.4 million people.
The Myanmar government announced the restoration of the internet in parts of the Rakhine and Chin states in August this year, after shutting down the network since June 2019. However, residents in the area told local media in the same month that only 2G services have been restored.
“By extending the shutdown until the end of 2020, it is by far the longest shutdown in the world,” the statement added.
The civil society groups urge the government to review and amend the current law to be in line with human rights standards and to work with various internet service providers to ensure a “secure, free, and open internet”. It added that the government should “refrain from restricting internet access and bandwidth restriction in the future”. The United Nations, private sectors, and civil society groups have raised concerns for the possible negative impact on economy, society, culture, security, and politics, the statement added.
Myanmar has seen a dramatic decline in internet freedom, as the government has been using its power to censor and shut down mobile internet access in the Rakhine and Chin states, block critical websites, and arrest dissidents using the telecommunications law, according to a report conducted by US-based research institution Freedom House and FEM.
Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO) and Phandeeyar, which are the partners of Myanmar’s annual digital rights forum, are also part of the civil society groups that urge end to internet shutdown.