Rights Groups Call for End to Internet Blackout in Rakhine, Chin States

Activists say they fear the month-old blackout has been used to hide rights abuses in the conflict-affected townships.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Human rights activists and local civil society organizations (CSOs) are calling on the Burmese government to restore Internet access in conflict-affected townships in Rakhine and Chin states, saying they fear the blackout is an attempt to hide abuses committed during the Burma Army’s ongoing offensive against the insurgent Arakan Army (AA).

“There have been many human rights abuses in the area. We’ve heard about civilians being killed in custody and others completely disappearing. Because the Internet has been disconnected, we don’t know what’s happening in the area and how local people are suffering,” said Nicky Diamond of the rights group Fortify Rights.

“Independent media outlets and international human rights organizations are finding it really difficult to get information from the area. It’s like they [the Burma Army] intentionally made the blackout for their own safety. That’s why we are really worried about it,” he told NMG.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered Internet service providers in western Burma to cut off all Internet connections in Buthtitaung, Rathaytaung, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Maungtaw, Ponnagyun, Myaebon, and Minbya townships in Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in Chin state on June 21.

A month later, Fortify Rights and other groups are saying that cutting off the Internet has caused more problems than it has solved, and has only served to heighten fears for the safety of local people.

“First of all, local CSOs are having a very hard time getting information about internally displaced persons. It’s difficult to confirm information without photos or video clips, using only phone calls. Sometimes facts are missing or late reaching us. It’s especially difficult to get news about clashes,” said Zaw Zaw Tun of the Rakhine Ethnics Congress.

“Before the Internet was cut off, we could get information about human rights abuses in the villages of Letkar and Kyauktan. We knew what was happening there. Now it’s difficult to know,” Zaw Zaw Tun told NMG.

Khin Saw Wai, the MP for Rathaytaung Township, raised the issue in the lower house of the Burmese parliament on July 18 and called for the Internet to be restored in the nine affected townships. However, her demand was rejected.

Others, including local businesspeople, have also called for the blackout to end, saying that it is hurting he local economy.