Rakhine And Chin Want Internet Block Lifted

By Network Media Group
Thursday, May 7, 2020

Citizens of southern Chin and northern Rakhine states called for an immediate end to an internet block, pointing out that since connectivity was disrupted hostilities between the armed groups and abuses against civilians have increased. The opposite of what the government claimed would happen after suspending the internet in the war-racked region.

Hla Thein Aung, who is a parliamentarian for Minbya township, said blocking the internet makes it more difficult to expose human rights abuses committed by the armed groups. “Clashes are intensifying in the area and consequently civilians are facing even more trouble,” he said. “Without the internet, we can’t let the international community know what’s happening here.”

Zaw Zaw Tun, from the Rakhine Ethnics Congress (REC), told NMG after internet services were banned human rights abuses in villages have increased. Since March, the conflict has displaced 37,000 civilians, according to REC. On April 30, there were 164,211 displaced persons in Rakhine State.

Since last June, the Ministry of Communication blocked internet services in Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Rathadaung, Buthidaung, Mraybon, Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State and Paletwa township in southern Chin State. Services in some townships were reinstated in September only to be cut again this February.

The ministry lifted the internet ban in Maungdaw township on May 2. The other townships in Rakhine and Chin states that are still blocked also want their internet back.

“To get real-time information in Rakhine State, we need internet services,” Aung Thaung, a parliamentarian for Buthidaung township, told NMG. He also called for freedom of the press. If you shut down the internet it disrupts education, the economy and health services, the parliamentarian said.

“They said they need to suspend the internet to stop hate speech and to reduce clashes,” said Khin Saw Wai, a parliamentarian for Rathaydaung township, but fighting didn’t decrease after the suspension.

In Rathaydaung township, there’s only one bank in the township for 165 villages. Before the internet block, Khin Saw Wai told NMG it was alright because residents could use an electronic money service called Wave Money but now they can’t use it at all. Many parliamentarians use Viber to communicate with each other and share news. Now they “can’t report in real-time about the clashes and injuries or casualties caused by landmines.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hla Thein Aung said it’s essential for the government to stop blocking internet services in Rakhine State immediately. “The coronavirus has spread across the world. We need to get regular updates about it by the Ministry of Health and Sports.”