Internet Services Restored in Maungdaw, Still Blocked in Eight Other Townships

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Burmese government has allowed internet to be accessed again in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township as of Saturday, but it remains blocked in eight other townships throughout the region, according to local sources.

“I think you’ll have to ask the government why they re-opened internet services. Whatever the reason, we welcome it,” speaker of the Rakhine State parliament San Kyaw Hla said, adding, “it would be better if they opened the internet service in remaining townships.”

Locals in Maungdaw say that they can now use their mobile phones to access updated information about the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing armed conflict, and economic issues since the ban has been lifted.

“I want to say that it’s good. We can know about the COVID-19 situation,” Maung Tun Thein, who lives in Maungdaw, told NMG. “But we are worried about whether they will shut down internet services again.”

The National League for Democracy government’s communications ministry shut down internet service in eight townships in Rakhine State—Kyauktaw, Mrauk U, Minbya, Rathedaung, Myebon, Buthidaung, and Maungdaw—and one township in Chin State—Paletwa—in June 2019. They cited intensifying clashes between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army as the reason for the ban, and accused the Arakan Army of spreading misinformation online.

Internet was reinstated in some townships in September 2019 but then shut down again in February 2020.

Zaw Zaw Tun of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress told NMG that he had heard that people in some parts of neighboring Buthidaung could access internet since the ban had been lifted in Maungdaw, but that it was not consistent.

“Maungdaw is a border town,” he said. “Coronavirus has spread in Bangladesh. As a border town, they want to get information about it.”

UN agencies, international NGOs, civil society organizations and the Rakhine State parliament and locals have repeatedly demanded that the internet blackout be lifted throughout northern Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in Chin State.

Zaw Zaw Tun said that he thinks the move is strategic and timed with growing pressure.

“The international community has put pressure on the Burmese government, regarding COVID-19 response. Ms. Yanghee Lee [former special rapporteur for human rights in Burma] published her report. Burma is going to submit a report to the ICJ [International Court of Justice],” he said. “I want to say that’s why they’ve opened the internet services again.”

On May 1, spokesperson for the President’s office Zaw Htay said in a press conference that the government would soon restore internet access in a Rakhine State township.