Police stand guard on a street in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 4, 2021. Authorities recently restricted access to social media platforms in the country. (AFP)

Myanmar’s military should lift Facebook, WhatsApp censorship, enable news broadcasts following coup

Bangkok, February 4, 2021 – Myanmar’s military should rescind an order to block social media platforms being used to share information about this week’s coup and lift ongoing restrictions on broadcasters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The military obstructed news stations and temporarily shuttered phone and internet access when it seized power from the elected government on February 1 and imposed one year of emergency rule until new polls are held.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Communications said today that Facebook would be blocked until February 7 on the grounds that people were “troubling the country’s stability” by “spreading fake news and misinformation” on the platform, according to international news reports quoting an official letter. Al-Jazeera reported that Facebook had emerged as a key platform for posting photos and videos of rising opposition to the coup.

Facebook urged the authorities to restore connectivity in a statement, according to Bloomberg. Other Facebook services including Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram were also disrupted on several networks, the international censorship monitoring group NetBlocks reported on Twitter.  

“The block on Facebook services is a crude attempt at censoring the news. It should be lifted immediately, along with all other media restrictions,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Social media and communication platforms are crucial for journalists to report the news as democracy is upended.”

Privately-run TV news stations that were blocked during the coup’s consolidation have not yet been allowed to resume broadcasting, according to a broadcast journalist in Yangon who spoke with CPJ today. The journalist requested anonymity, fearing military reprisals. Online and print publications have not been disrupted, journalists in Yangon told CPJ by email.

Myanmar’s military blocked phone lines and internet services this week as it detained the nation’s democratically-elected representatives. Those services were restored after about 12 hours, according to those news reports and CPJ interviews with journalists on the ground.