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Myanmar military shuts down Internet

Myanmar's military cut off much of the nation's connectivity after they rounded up civilian leaders in the early hours of Monday morning.

Robert Clark

February 1, 2021

3 Min Read
Myanmar military shuts down Internet

It used to be that the radio station was the first target in a coup. Now it's the Internet.

Myanmar's military cut off much of the nation's connectivity after they rounded up civilian leaders and announced a state of emergency in the early hours of Monday morning.

The military leadership declared the November 8 election result, in which the main democratic party NLD won more than 80% of the seats, was fraudulent. Fresh elections are to be held.

Disruption of Myanmar's web traffic began at 3 a.m. local time, global Internet monitor Netblocks advised.

It said national connectivity fell initially to 75%, and by 8 a.m. it was down to 50% of usual traffic levels. It recovered to around 75% by noon.

"Technical data show cuts affecting multiple network operators including state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and international operator Telenor, with preliminary findings indicating a centrally-ordered mechanism of disruption targeting cellular and some fixed-line services, progressing over time as operators comply," Netblocks said on its website.

Hong Kong-based HGC, which has the largest international wholesale and corporate business in Myanmar, confirmed it had been hit by an outage at around 8:30 a.m. It says services resumed gradually and were restored by around noon.

Amnesty International said Internet and phone outages had been reported in the capital Naypyitaw, the biggest city, Yangon, and several regions around the country.

It said the blackout posed "a further threat to the population at such a volatile time," with the impoverished country riven by armed conflict and battling the pandemic.

"It is vital that full phone and internet services be resumed immediately," it said.

The loss of connectivity forced banks to close their doors, blaming "poor connectivity and the unavailability of the banking system," Myanmar Times reported.

This is not the first time Myanmar's military leadership has shut down the Internet for political purposes. The 14-month Internet blackout in the Rakhine and Chin states in western Myanmar is possibly the world's longest.

And not just Myanmar. Turning off the net has become a go-to move for authoritarian regimes.

China, unsurprisingly, has been one of the pioneers. After a deadly riot in Xinjiang in 2009, authorities shut down Internet and text messaging for ten months.

In one of the best-known incidents, Egypt's then-President Hosni Mubarek cut off connectivity for five days at the height of the 2011 protests.

Just last week, the Indian state of Haryana took 17 districts offline for a short period in response to widespread farmer protests.

The UN has reportedly declared Internet access as a human right, though some experts dispute that.

However, a 2016 resolution condemns any "measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access" to the net. China, Russia and South Africa voted against.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Robert Clark

Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

Robert Clark is an independent technology editor and researcher based in Hong Kong. In addition to contributing to Light Reading, he also has his own blog,  Electric Speech (http://www.electricspeech.com). 

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