Bangkok, June 24, 2019 — Myanmar authorities should immediately restore internet access to Rakhine and Chin states and ensure that connectivity is not interrupted in the future, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 21, the Ministry of Transport and Communications directed all mobile phone operators to temporarily suspend internet services in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin states, citing “disturbances of peace and use of internet activities to coordinate illegal activities,” according to a report by Reuters and a statement by local telecom operator Telenor.
The shutdown order came amid an escalation in fighting between the Arakan Army insurgent group and government forces in the two states, according to news reports.
“Myanmar’s internet blackout deliberately impedes journalists’ ability to send, receive, and publish reports from Rakhine and Chin states,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities should lift their censorship order and allow reporters to report freely on the region’s armed conflict.”
During a press conference on June 22, a military spokesperson told local media that the army had no information on the shutdown, the Reuters report said. A report by Agence France-Presse noted that, while the order only affected mobile data services, few people in Rakhine and Chin states use computers to access the internet, and instead rely on their phones.
Today, a journalist at the Union Development Media Group news agency, based in the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, told CPJ that the internet shutdown in still in effect. The journalist spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of government reprisal.
A Ministry of Transport and Communications representative answered CPJ’s phone call but declined to comment on the shutdown.
The internet shutdown follows other government actions against journalists covering the insurgent conflict, with military officials filing a criminal defamation complaint against The Irrawaddy editor Ye Ni in April and a criminal complaint under the colonial-era Unlawful Association Act against Development Media Group editor-in-chief Aung Marm Oo in May, as CPJ reported at the time.