Myanmar: end crackdown on media and communications

Burma The military junta should immediately lift internet restrictions, release all those detained since the February 1, 2021 coup, and end harassment and threats to arrest journalists, Human Rights Watch said today.

Journalists in Myanmar have reported credible threats of an imminent and widespread crackdown on media workers, and several told Human Rights Watch they feared for their safety.

“A news and information blackout by the coup plotters cannot hide their politically motivated arrests and other abuses,” said Brad adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The military should immediately release those arrested, restore access to online information and protect the right to freedom of expression. “

On February 4, the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP) in Myanmar mentionned that in addition to the 133 officials and lawmakers detained by the army at the start of the coup, 14 activists were also arrested. On the morning of February 4, authorities arrested 4 of around 20 demonstrators who had gathered outside Mandalay Medical University to oppose the coup. It is not yet known whether those arrested have been charged. On February 5, authorities arrested Aung San Suu Kyi’s main collaborator, Win Htein, 79, in Mayangone commune. He faces charges for his remarks denouncing the coup.

Human Rights Watch called for the lifting of the February 3 and 5 orders issued by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, now entirely under the control of the military, ordering the blocking of social media services. The government mentionned it prohibited the use of the service because people used it to “disturb the stability of the country”.

On February 3, the ministry ordered all mobile communications operators, international gateways and Internet service providers to cut access to social media services owned by Facebook until at least February 7. The order went into effect on February 4, when Facebook, its Messenger app, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, all became inaccessible over mobile data networks to people with the company’s SIM cards. telecommunications MPT. Telenor, a telecommunications company based in Norway, issued a declaration saying he had complied with the ordinance which had a “legal basis in Myanmar law”, but expressed “serious concern about the violation of human rights”. Facebook is the main source of news and information in the country and, for many Burmese, is synonymous with the Internet.

On February 5, the Council expanded the restrictions, ordering mobile operators, international gateways and internet service providers to cut access to Twitter and Instagram. Twitter service disruptions have been reported across the country and for many service providers. According to Netblocks, the service disruptions began on February 6 at around 3 a.m. Instagram was already subject to restrictions under the previous directive at the time of the announcement.

On February 5, Telenor released another declaration claiming that he had also complied with the February 5 directive, which he noted had no expiry date, stating that it had “a legal basis in Myanmar’s telecommunications law “And that Telenor had contested” the necessity and proportionality of the directive “.

Under international human rights standards, any internet-based restriction must be prescribed by law and be necessary and proportionate and in accordance with a legitimate aim. Internet shutdowns do not meet these standards and hinder access to information and communications necessary for daily life, which is particularly vital in times of crisis and Covid-19 pandemic. The restrictions also provide cover for human rights violations and complicate efforts to document government violations.

Internet service providers should meet their responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which says companies should “[s]strive to prevent or mitigate negative human rights impacts that are directly related to their operations, products or services through their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts. It means resisting unwarranted internet shutdowns. Service providers must insist on a legal basis for any closure orders, interpret requests to cause the least intrusive restrictions, and restore access as soon as possible, Human Rights Watch said.

On February 4, members of the United Nations Security Council issued a declaration expressing deep concern at the declared state of emergency and the arbitrary detention of members of the democratically elected government in Myanmar. In calling for the release of those detained, the Security Council also urged Myanmar to “refrain from all violence and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”. The council also expressed concern about the restrictions imposed on civil society, journalists and other media professionals.

“The Burmese military has embarked on a naked takeover that, if not reversed, will set back democracy and human rights protection for a generation,” Adams said. “The coup was so appalling that even China, which has always protected the military from condemnation in the Security Council, signed an appeal for respect for fundamental freedoms. Governments must be clear about the army’s appalling human rights record and together demand that the military abandon its general assault on civilian rule, human rights and the rule of law.

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