Military coup in Myanmar causes internet outages

A state of emergency was declared in the country, after NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was detained.

 

Internet services were unavailable in Myanmar on Monday, as an ongoing coup saw leaders of the ruling National League for Democracy party detained under military order. A state of emergency was declared shortly after the raid.

Disruptions to Myanmar's internet and telecommunications began early, at 03:00 on Monday morning, and connectivity levels had reportedly plunged to 50% by 08:00. Internet services were "partially restored" by noon, with 75% of regular levels.

NetBlocks, a British, non-governmental monitoring organization, shared data that elaborated on the scale of the outages. A number of Myanmar's network operators were affected, with state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) included.

According to NetBlocks, initial data pointed to "a centrally ordered mechanism of disruption targeting cellular and some fixed-line services, progressing over time as operators comply".

The disruptions affected more than just internet services, however. Banks also closed across the country, leading to ATM queues, and TV and radio channels were likewise unavailable during the coup. On social media, warnings, advice, and worried posts were plentiful, as friends and family outside the country attempted to make contact with loved ones.

Though the disruptions were brief, lasting less than a day, certain regions of Myanmar saw harsher restrictions than others – particularly Yangon. The region, which is also the country's largest city, saw outages causing a 50% drop in connectivity.

Myanmar's internet restrictions were sparked on Sunday, when Aung San Suu Kyi – the leader of the NLD party – was detained by military force, along with a number of other party leaders. Myanmar's military had previously attempted to quell rumors of an upcoming coup, claiming that the country's constitution would be upheld and protected.

In November 2020, the National League for Democracy party chalked up a convincing victory at the general election, winning more than 80% of all seats. These results were, however, declared fraudulent by the military.

The subsequent coup has been widely criticized, and marks the first coup d'état by the military since 1962.

Once internet services had been disrupted and civilian leaders accounted for and detained, Myanmar's armed forces declared a year-long state of emergency via military-owned television – and claimed that power had been transferred to Min Aung Hlaing, a Senior General.

The decision to restrict internet access during the coup falls within the scope of Article 77 of the Myanmar Telecommunications Law. Calls to amend this law have already risen from various human rights groups, who cite that freedom of expression is stifled by the sheer scope of the Article.

In addition, human rights advocates have cited that the Myanmar outage was particularly dangerous given the current COVID-19 pandemic, with citizens relying on online resources to stay up to date with the latest health information or request aid.

However, the recent civil unrest is not the first time such restrictions were used. Myanmar's military initiated a 14-month internet shutdown in June 2019, targeting areas of Rakhine and Chin State where conflict between the Myanmar and Arakan forces had been most fierce.

Written by: Hannah Hart

Originally hailing from Wales, Hannah Hart graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1:1 in Creative Writing, going on to work as an Editor across a number of trade magazines. As a professional writer, Hannah has worked across both digital and print media, and is familiar with collating news pieces, in depth reports and producing by lines for international publications. Otherwise, she can be found pouring over a tarot deck or spending more hours than she'll ever admit playing Final Fantasy 14.

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