Myanmar Chokes Internet, Blocks Twitter Amid Anti-Coup Protests
A demonstrator wears a National League for Democracy party themed protective mask during a protest outside the Embassy of Myanmar in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photographer: Andre Malerba/Bloomberg)

Myanmar Chokes Internet, Blocks Twitter Amid Anti-Coup Protests

Myanmar’s military-run government throttled internet access and ordered service providers to block Twitter and Instagram, tightening a crackdown to stifle dissent and curb communication after this week’s coup.

A government directive requires all mobile operators to temporarily shut down the data network, though voice and short-message services remain open, Telenor Myanmar said in a statement on Saturday. Another order added the two social media platforms to the existing prohibition on Facebook.

The internet blackout came as videos emerged online appearing to show fresh street protests in commercial capital Yangon. Myo Swe, an official at the communications ministry, didn’t pick up calls seeking comment.

Myanmar Chokes Internet, Blocks Twitter Amid Anti-Coup Protests

Aung San Suu Kyi has called on supporters to resist the generals after being unseated in the Feb. 1 coup. The military seized power after claiming, without presenting evidence, that her landslide victory in November’s election was tainted with fraud. It pledged polls after a yearlong state of emergency.

The takeover has been criticized by many countries. The U.S., China and other members of the United Nations Security Council called Thursday for the “immediate release” of all those detained in Myanmar while emphasizing the need for the “continued support of the democratic transition” there.

At the same time, Myanmar’s military leaders -- some of whom were already sanctioned by the Trump administration for a brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims -- remain on good terms with China.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed China on Friday to “join the international community in condemning the military coup,” while China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi reiterated that the international community should create a favorable environment to solve the problem.

Telenor Myanmar, one of two wholly foreign-owned mobile operators in the country, said the order to close the data network referenced “circulation of fake news, stability of the nation and interest of the public.” Telenor added that freedom of expression should be “maintained at all times, especially during times of conflict.”

A Twitter spokesperson said it was “deeply concerned about the order to block internet services in Myanmar.”

The military has detained Suu Kyi and Reuters reported Saturday that Sean Turnell, an Australian who advised her on economic matters, was also being held. Efforts to reach him by mobile phone were unsuccessful.

The Australian government said it was very concerned about reports of the arbitrary detention of Australian and other foreign nationals, adding it was providing consular assistance to a number of its citizens and had “serious concerns” about one detained at a police station.

The military ruled Myanmar for a half a century before Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party scored a landslide victory in elections in 2015. The nation and Suu Kyi’s image were later badly damaged by the violent crackdown against Rohingya that prompted accusations of genocide.

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