Myanmar Junta Orders Shutdown of Internet, Providers Say

Myanmar's military junta ordered an internet shutdown in the country Friday that was met by defiance among anti-government protesters.

Undaunted by the shutdown and the government's deadly crackdowns on demonstrators that have killed hundreds since the February 1 coup, protesters continued to march, observe strikes and use communications technology that operates without network connections.

Local wireless broadband internet services said they were ordered to shut down until further notice by the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The government previously shut down mobile phone cellular networks and most of the military-controlled media outlets in the Southeast Asian country.

Protesters have used the internet and cellphones to publicize violent acts that security forces have perpetrated against peaceful protesters and to organize against military rule.

The government did not announce the internet shutdown or explain its order to providers.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council repeated its call for the immediate release of all detainees in Myanmar, including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and an end to violence.

In a statement late Thursday, the council expressed its deep concern for the "rapidly deteriorating situation" in Myanmar and strongly condemned the use of lethal force by security forces and police against peaceful pro-democracy protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including women and children.

The council also called on the military "to exercise utmost restraint" and on all sides "to refrain from violence."

The Security Council also reiterated the need for full respect for human rights and the pursuit of "dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar."

Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, was charged Thursday with breaking a secrets law that dates to the country's colonial days, her lawyer said. It is the most serious of the charges leveled against her by the military since the February 1 coup.

Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, among other members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, have been detained since the coup. She has been accused of breaking COVID-19 protocols and having in her possession six handheld radios.

Her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters Thursday that Suu Kyi, three of her cabinet ministers and Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser, were charged a week ago under the secrets law. If convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison. Suu Kyi appeared via video for the Thursday hearing and appeared to be in good health, said Min Min Soe, another of her lawyers.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer telephone calls from Reuters seeking comment.

Anti-coup protesters were back on the streets Thursday, some symbolically burned copies of the country's constitution as a group of deposed lawmakers announced a new civilian government to run counter to the ruling military junta. Reuters, citing media reports, said two more protesters were killed.

The rebel government, dubbed the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, is made up of members of deposed NLD government who were elected in November but not allowed to take their seats after the military detained Suu Kyi and replaced the civilian government.

The CRPH also announced a new federal constitution to replace the one drafted by the military in 2008, which brought democracy to Myanmar after five decades while still maintaining the army's power and influence in any civilian government. The CRPH-drafted constitution was written to meet the longstanding demands of Myanmar's regional ethnic groups, who have been fighting for decades for greater autonomy.

The junta's violent crackdown against pro-democracy opponents across Myanmar has expanded in recent days against ethnic rebels, who are siding with the protesters. The military launched airstrikes against ethnic Karen rebels in eastern Myanmar in response to rebel attacks on military and police stations. The airstrikes prompted thousands of people to flee through the jungle and over the border into neighboring Thailand.

The junta, which had been turning off internet service at night, told internet service providers to shut down wireless broadband service until further notice, according to Ooredoo, one of several providers to report the move Thursday.

This internet shutdown was condemned by several dozen U.N. member countries via a statement written by Lithuania, France and Greece.

The countries condemned "the use of internet shutdowns to restrict access to information and the apparent specific targeting of local and international journalists," said the statement of the three European countries, co-presidents to the U.N. Group of Friends to Protect Journalists.

The worsening situation prompted Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, to warn the Security Council Wednesday that "a bloodbath is imminent" and of an increasing "possibility of civil war" in the country if civilian rule is not restored.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a nongovernmental organization, estimates that 536 people have been killed by the junta since the peaceful protests began, including more than 100 protesters — many of them women and children — last Saturday during the annual Armed Forces Day celebration. More than 2,700 have been arrested, charged or sentenced.

The U.S. State Department has ordered all nonessential personnel and their family members to leave Myanmar as the military's bloody crackdown against anti-coup demonstrations continues.

Source: Voice of America