Myanmar’s military government has blocked Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp as it seeks to stop opposition after having conducted a coup, seized power, and detained the country’s elected leaders.
Facebook has become the key social media platform used by the citizens opposing the military takeover. It is reportedly used by about half of Myanmar’s 53 million people. Military officials said that Facebook, which for many of the people is the only access to the internet, would be blocked for the sake of “stability.”
The ban on social media will remain in place until February 7 according to the Ministry of Communications and Transport.
“Currently the people who are troubling the country’s stability… are spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook,” the ministry said in a release.
The state-owned Internet provider MPT appears to be enforcing the block which has spread to other providers.
Netblocks, a London-based internet observatory that tracks internet shutdowns and disruptions reported the blockage by the military.
⚠️ Confirmed: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp servers are now restricted in #Myanmar on state-owned internet provider MPT; real-time metrics show selective filtering in place even as basic connectivity is restored following military coup 📉
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 3, 2021
Small protests took place in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city. Some protesters were arrested by the military. In the city of Yangon, for two nights in a row, citizens banged cooking pots throughout the night in a sign of protest against the coup plotters.
De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD), has not been seen since being detained on Sunday. She is reportedly being held under house arrest. She has been charged with breaching import and export laws and with possession of unlawful communication devices. Police said they found six walkie-talkie radios while searching Aung San Suu Kyi’s home in Naypyidaw, claiming they had been imported illegally and used without permission. Her arrest document was posted by the BBC.
A separate police arrest document showed that police also filed charges against deposed President Win Myint for failing to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The president was also arrested and detained on Monday.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during an interview, “We will do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails.”
“It’s absolutely unacceptable to reverse the result of the elections and the will of the people.”
“I hope that it’ll be possible to make the military in Myanmar understand that this is not the way to rule the country and this is not the way to move forward,” he added.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won a landslide victory in the November 8 elections. Her party had also won the 2015 elections after the military had ruled for five decades.
Kyi had been under house arrest from 1989 to 2010 for promoting the democracy movement. The military, however, rewrote the constitution guaranteeing itself at least 25 percent of the parliamentary seats and prime roles in the government.
The NLD won 396 out of 476 seats in November’s election, which threatened the military’s hold on power. The military tried to justify the coup by claiming massive electoral fraud. Those accusations were debunked by election observers.
The Biden administration has declared the military’s takeover in Myanmar a “coup d’état,” according to senior State Department officials. American aid to the country has ground to a halt as the U.S. ponders leveling sanctions.
“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” President Biden said in a statement.