Myanmar has seen a dramatic decline in internet freedom, as the government has been using its power to censor, shut down mobile internet access in the Rakhine and Chin States, block critical websites, and arrest dissidents using the telecommunications law, according to the latest report by US-based research institution Freedom House and Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), a local rights group advocating freedom of expression.
“Myanmar’s transition from military dictatorship to democracy has faltered under the leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which came to power in relatively free elections in 2015, but has failed to uphold human rights or bring security to areas affected by armed conflict,” the report said.
It added that “the military retains significant influence over politics, and the government’s 2017 military operation that forced more than 700,000 members of the Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh remains a point of international concern. Journalists, demonstrators, and ordinary people risk legal charges and detention for voicing dissent.”
Internet freedom in Myanmar has been ranked as “not free” for the third successive year, and the score dropped five points in the overall rating to 31 out of 100. Criteria included obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of users rights.
As Myanmar is set to hold general elections on November 8, there is a latent pressure of possible government censorship on online content, according to the report. For instance, the government’s social media monitoring team aims to work with Facebook to prevent hate speech and false information during the election period. However, the move has been criticized by the opposition party, who claims that the task force is using a “double standard” which could “jeopardize the validity of the general elections.”
Internet access still curtailed
The news came at a time when the Myanmar government announced to restore internet access in all townships of the Rakhine and Chin States in August this year, Myanmar Times reported, after shutting down the network in parts of the two western states for months since June 2019.
However, residents in the area told Myanmar Times that only 2G services have been restored which only allow to make voice calls and provide limited data transmission.
The report highlighted that the government’s order to block websites such as Narinjara News, Mandalay In-Depth News, Mekong News, Voice of Myanmar, and Karen News, together with the prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing of internet users to prison under the telecommunications law and the “law protecting the privacy and security of citizens” have further crushed internet freedom.