Over a million people have been cut off from any kind of internet service in the conflict-ridden state of Rakhine.
Myanmar authorities called for this internet black-out, giving no warning to civilians that it would be taking place. This came around the same time as Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered four companies to temporary block mobile internet access to nine townships. Only one of these companies, Telenor, announced the internet blackout to the public.
This shutdown comes in the wake of ongoing conflicts between national forces and the Arakan Army (AA), an insurgent group in the region. AA is allegedly fighting for increased political and autonomy for Rakhine Buddhists in the area.
The level of civil unrest in Rakhine has resulted in over 30,000 civilians being displaced over the past six months. In 2017, around 730,000 Rohingya Muslims, who were heavily persecuted in Rakhine, were also displaced.
Human rights groups have condemned the internet shutdown. Many believe that the lack of access to information is further endangering civilians. The UN special rapporteur has said the shutdown could be “a cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population”.
The US State Department has criticized the act, too. Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the government is “deeply concerned” by the shutdown, and calls for Myanmar’s government to overturn their decision.
In response, the Rakhine state government advises that these displaced civilians call their local officials for help.
Restrictions to information isn’t rare in the country. Freedom of the press has been an issue, with journalists being jailed for reporting on the Rohingya persecution. Myanmar’s Press Official states that this latest shutdown mirrors the Saffron Revolution which took place in 2007.
Residents in the area and human rights groups say that the necessary “flow of information” is no longer able to take place. For example, applications such as WhatsApp were essential to helping both nonprofits and civilians. None of it is accessible anymore.