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Myanmar: Junta blocks Facebook, UN calls for global response

February 4, 2021

Myanmar was the subject of a coup this week as soldiers detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The UN has said the military's efforts to seize power must fail while the junta has disrupted access to social media.

The military coup in Myanmar has been met with international condemnationImage: Stringer/AA/picture alliance

Myanmar's junta blocked Facebook on Thursday, just days after the army seized power, as the United Nations warned the world must rally to ensure the coup does not succeed.

People have flocked to social media to voice opposition to the coup, as well as share ideas to rise up against the actions of the military, with Facebook a popular option to galvanize support.

Myanmar plummeted back into direct military rule on Monday when the army detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and other civilian leaders, in a series of early morning raids, ending the nation's brief flirtation with democracy.

Social media blackout

Myanmar's Ministry of Communications and Information said on Thursday that Facebook, used by half of the country's 54 million population, would be blocked until at least February 7.

"Currently, the people, who are troubling the country's stability, are spreading fake news and misinformation, and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook," the ministry said in a statement.

Facebook confirmed that access was "currently disrupted for some people," also saying that the restrictions had hit its instant messaging service, WhatsApp, as well as Instagram and all communication platforms owned by the social media giant.

The government said it would also block VPN services after demand increased 4,300%.

Norwegian-owned telecoms company Telenor said that authorities in Myanmar had ordered it to "temporarily block" access to Facebook, saying it had to comply but that it had severe concerns about "necessity and proportionality" and whether the measure complied with human rights law.

Muzzled protest

With soldiers and armored vehicles back on the streets of major cities across the country, the takeover has not yet sparked any significant civil unrest.

Yangon Protest
Residents in Yangon strike pots and pans as a protest against the coupImage: Stringer/AA/picture alliance

Residents of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, and other urban areas, though, did manage to bang pots and pans together, while some people honked car horns for a second night on Wednesday in protest against the coup. Images of the disgruntlement had circulated widely on social media, and on Facebook in particular.

While some people did take part in sporadic, small-scale protests, staff at government hospitals and workers from the agricultural ministry joined a campaign of disobedience with some wearing the red ribbons of Sii Kyu's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Myanmar coup: German MP Jürgen Hardt speaks to DW

UN's Guterres: 'Absolutely unacceptable'

The coup sparked international condemnation, with the United Nations joining the chorus of disapproval.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he would pressure Myanmar's generals to relinquish power.

"We will do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails," Guterres told US newspaper The Washington Post.

"After elections that I believe took place normally and after a large period of transition, it's absolutely unacceptable to reverse the results of the elections and the will of the people," he added.

Military unhappy with election outcome

Fears abound that army chief Min Aung Hlaing's coup will drag Myanmar back to the decades of junta rule.

The general told business groups that he could hold onto power for a further six months after the one-year state of emergency in order to ensure subsequent fair elections.

Min Aung Hlaing justified his actions by alleging widespread voter fraud had taken place during last November's national election, which saw Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi win a huge landslide.

The outcome did not go down well with the military as its favored parties well way behind Suu Kyi's NLD party.

International observers and Myanmar's own electoral monitor declared the nationwide ballot as broadly fair and free.

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jsi/msh (AFP, Reuters)