top of page
  • Myanmar Internet Project

Myanmar Digital Coup Quarterly: November 2023 - January 2024


It has now been three years since the coup, which started on February 1, 2021. Ethnic revolutionary forces who suffered innumerable oppressions from the Myanmar military since the immediate post-independence period and youth forces who could not stand oppression fought together for three years with a single spirit and goal to eradicate the dictatorship once and for all. 1027 Operation that is being carried out by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) has accelerated military actions against the junta, resulting in seizing and liberating numerous cities from the junta.

With the accelerating revolutionary waves, the ground forces of the junta are suffering huge losses and are on a terminal decline. In an attempt to cover the reality of their losses, the Military Council continues to implement repressive measures against the democratic movements of revolutionary forces in the digital sphere. Studying the digital repression experienced between November 2023 to January 2024, the Military Council is conducting several mobile and internet shutdowns in areas where they are suffering huge disadvantages, arresting people expressing their opinions via social media, and repressing news media.

This article describes the phenomenon of digital repression and the related incidents that occurred between November 2023 to January 2024.


Summary of Digital Oppression Issues in November 2023


(a) Shutting down mobile and internet connections

(b) Arrests limiting freedom of expression


(a) Shutting Down Mobile and Internet Connections

Mobile and internet connections are being shut down more frequently as the offensive of the Three Brotherhood Alliance becomes more intense. Mobile and internet connections are being shut down in regions where coordinated attacks of ethnic revolutionary organisations and resistance forces along with the 1027 Operation are taking place.

Mobile connections in Kawkareik and Kyain Seikgyi were shut down after revolutionary alliance forces led by KNU/KNLA raided military outposts in these areas. Mobile and internet connections were also shut down in Laukkai after the Three Brotherhood Alliance launched a mission there.

Kawlin civilian areas were bombed by the Military Council’s jet fighters. Electricity, internet, and mobile connections were cut off.

Internet service providers stated via RFA Burmese that the cause of internet shutdowns in all 18 townships of Kachin State is the siege of Tigyaing, Sagaing by the resistance forces, resulting in destroyed internet cables that led to banking issues.

Arakan Express News also stated that the Military Council cut off mobile and internet connections in all northern Rakhine townships following renewed clashes between the Arakan Army and the Military Council.

Internet shutdowns were reported in about 20 villages in Kyaikmaraw, Mon State following the clashes between revolutionary forces and the Military Council. All mobile connections were cut off in Loikaw City, Karenni (Kayah) State as soon as the city-seizing attempts by 11.11 Operation started.

These events are proof that the Military Council is weaponising mobile and internet shutdowns in the conflicted areas. These communication shutdowns make it difficult for local people in the heavily conflicted areas to acquire vital information and delay their attempts to take refuge. It also causes a lot of social and health issues in these regions.

The Minister of Communications, Information and Technology of the National Unity Government of Myanmar commented that half a million US dollars will be spent to reestablish internet connections in five townships where the Military Council cuts off the internet. An internet café was opened using Starlink in Karen State where the internet was cut off. These situations led the Ministry of Transport and Communications (SAC) to state that satellite internet usage without a license is illegal.


(b) Arrests Limiting Freedom of Expression

Dealing with huge failures in politics, warfare and diplomacy, the Military Council is trying to put fear in people by suppressing freedom of speech. Thanlwin Times Media stated that the arrests of social media users have become more frequent in Mon state during this month. Both Facebook and TikTok accounts were being watched and arrests were made. Ko Ko Hutu, a Mawlamyine local, was arrested and accused of filming the barricade in front of a minister’s house and posting it on TikTok. A midwife was also arrested and charged with 505-A Act for sharing a news story on Facebook about the assassination of a local manager of the Department of Fisheries in Ye City.

Twelve locals from Aungmyaytharzan and Chanayetharzan Townships, Mandalay City were arrested by the local police station for posting about the Military Council forcing people to serve as porters. Ye Htut, a former minister of Information in Thein Sein’s Cabinet, was also arrested and sentenced to 10 years for criticising the junta on social media. The Military Council’s Ministry of Information stated on their Telegram channel “MOI” that there have been over 60 arrests this month for expressing opinions on social media.


U Ye Htut was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Ref: VOA


Summary of Digital Oppression Issues in December 2023


(a) Shutting down mobile and internet connections

(b) Arrests limiting freedom of expression

(c) Media oppression


(a) Shutting Down Mobile and Internet Connections

Ayeyarwaddy Times News posted that the Military Council blocked highways and waterways throughout Paletwa township where the clashes between the junta army and the Arakan Army are taking place and cut off all mobile connections. Shwe Phee Myay News posted about the shutdown of mobile connections in Muse 105-Mile. Electricity and internet were cut off in Kyaukkyi City and Mone City while the People Defence Force was attacking the junta troops. The Arakan Express News wrote that the Military Council cut off mobile and internet connections in Ann Township and some townships in Rakhine. Khit Thit Media posted that Namtway Village, Mine Ngaw City, Kyaukme Township was bombed and the internet was cut off by the junta army. Mobile and internet connections in Natthankwin, Penwekone, Mone townships and multiple areas on the Eastern Side of the Sittang River were also cut off. Based on these events, it can be concluded that the Military Council is routinely cutting off communication in heavily conflicted areas.

During this month, the Military Council is recklessly shutting down the internet and creating fuel shortages through their mismanagement. Myanmar has suffered an energy crisis for many decades and it got worse after the coup. Electricity shortage leads rural and ethnic regions to utilise fuel to power cell towers, leading to a communication crisis. Demoso Townships can only afford to use the internet and mobile phones for an average of six hours a day because of the fuel shortage. Kyauktaw Township and Pauktaw Township faced internet shutdowns due to fuel shortages. Western News stated that 90 per cent of mobile connections are unusable in Rakhine rural regions.

Attempts to overcome the junta’s communication shutdowns were also seen this month. Dhang Talan Township public administration bodies’ tech support department “Team ZNET” announced being able to provide internet for some of the local administration teams. The Minister of Communications, Information and Technology stated that private internet connections were established in 61 places in Sagaing Region, Magway Region, Karenni (Kayah) State and Karen State. However, people in regions facing internet shutdowns are still far away from the dream of getting a communication system with freedom.


(b) Arrests Limiting Freedom of Expression

Since the day of the coup, the Military Council has been attempting to oppress freedom of expression. They have been conducting arrests for posting on social media and even for commenting on the news posts. They even threatened to arrest people for commenting and sharing Rakhine’s media outlets. Four men from Thanbyuzayat Town were arrested on accusations of encouraging terrorism on social media and financing the terrorists. Pro-regime Telegram Channels often urge the Military Council to ban Facebook. Pro-regime so-called media outlet “Myanmar National Post” urged to ban Facebook. The official Telegram Channel of the Ministry of Information, ‘MOI’, published news about more than 30 people being arrested for their social media posts.


(c) Media Oppression


The media licence of Mekong News was revoked by the SAC’s Ministry of Information


The news media have been facing the harshest oppression in many forms by the Military Council including prolonged jail terms and the revocation of media licenses. The Ministry of Information revoked Mekong News’ license this month. Measures like threatening to arrest people for commenting and sharing Rakhine’s media outlets, described above in “Arrests limiting freedom of expression”, are also indirectly oppressing the media by reducing the reach of news reports.


Summary of Digital Oppression Issues in January 2024


(a) Shutting down mobile and internet connections

(b) Arrests limiting freedom of expression


(a) Shutting Down Mobile and Internet Connections

The Military Council continues to expand mobile and internet shutdown in early 2024. Mobile connections were cut off in Kutkai City after the clash between Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and junta troops. Mobile and internet were cut off in Pauktaw, Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships following renewed clashes between the Arakan Army and junta troops. Soon after these shutdowns, Rakhine State including Sittwe City were cut off from mobile and internet connections. These internet shutdowns resulted in the cessation of money transfers and financial processes that posed huge losses and difficulties for locals. Mongmit City internet connections were also cut off while the Kachin Independence Army was fighting the junta troops there. Yangon City is also suffering from frequent blackouts and wifi internet shutdowns. The Three Brotherhood Alliance issued a statement that these mobile and internet shutdowns are the Military Council’s preparation to conduct violations of human rights recklessly.

Yaw Alinn Tan posted about internet cables being cut off between Pauk and Tilin which led to an internet shutdown in Gangaw City. In addition to the Military Council’s shutting down the internet in conflicted areas, some areas in Pathein City and Gangaw City encountered mobile and internet shutdowns because of the Military Council’s drone jammers.

Pro-regime Telegram channel Kyaw Swar urged the junta to find out and prosecute the persons responsible for helping Kawlin City regain mobile and internet access.


(b) Arrests Limiting Freedom of Expression

To disturb the flow of information, the Military Council is shutting down the internet and conducting arrests and oppression of citizens who posted their opinions on social media.

A 70-year-old local man from Hinthada was even arrested for criticising the military regime. A monk named Pauk KoTaw, a military supporter, was called in and questioned after his speech urging Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing to move into civil service and replace Deputy Chief Soe Win went viral on social media.

A renowned documentary filmmaker Shin Daewe was tried by court martial with two charges against the Counter-Terrorism Act and convicted to life imprisonment according to Section 50 (j) Counter-Terrorism Act related to funding terrorism.

The Military Council is taking action to control criticism against them on social media strictly. They are preparing to organise a committee to watch and prosecute political criticism and sexually explicit posts daily.


Announcement of the establishment of a committee of the Military Council

to monitor mis- and disinformation


According to a statement published in the Telegram Channel ‘MOI’ of the Ministry of Information, over 20 people were arrested in January 2024 for expressing their opinions on social media.


EngageMedia is publishing English translations of the Myanmar Digital Coup Quarterly produced by the Myanmar Internet Project. This post covers updates between November 2023 to January 2024 and highlights digital oppression incidents documented during that period. Read the original post in Burmese here, and learn more about EngageMedia’s broader work to support digital rights in Myanmar on EngageMedia.org/Myanmar.


Read the other editions of the report.

Comentarios


bottom of page