Military blocks Facebook after Myanmar coup

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Dailynewsun Desk:

Military rulers of Myanmar have blocked access to Facebook, days after they overthrew the democratic government.

Officials said the social media platform – for many in Myanmar the only access to the internet – would be blocked for the sake of “stability”. Facebook has become a key rallying point for opposition to Monday’s coup, reports BBC.

In further civil disobedience, lawmakers are refusing to leave their compound in the capital, and more pot-banging was seen in Yangon.

What is Facebook’s role?
The Ministry of Communications and Information said access to Facebook would be blocked until 7 February. However, it was still reported to be accessible sporadically.

Anthony Aung, who runs a tour agency in Yangon, the main city, told the BBC at one point he still had access to the site through WiFi but not cellular data.

He said “people around me are all rushing to download alternative apps and VPN” – virtual private networks which allow users to get round internet restrictions.

Hours later, Mr Aung said Facebook had stopped working completely.

Yangon student Min Htet said her education had already been suspended due to the Covid pandemic. “Blocking Facebook today means that the freedom of young people is restricted from now on,” she told Reuters.

Half of Myanmar’s 54 million people use Facebook and activists have set up a page to co-ordinate opposition to the coup.

The company allows its app to be used without data costs in Myanmar as a way of avoiding expensive telecoms data charges.

The social media giant acknowledged the disruption, saying “we urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information”.

Telecoms company Telenor Myanmar, which is part of the Norwegian Telenor Group, said it would comply with the order to block Facebook, but suggested in a statement that this breached human rights law.

What is happening on the streets?
Reports from Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay, say there was a small demonstration and some arrests.

In Yangon, residents banged cooking pots for a second night running in a sign of protest.

At least 70 lawmakers are refusing to leave a government guest house in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and have declared what they are calling a new parliamentary session, BBC Burmese reports.

The MPs belong to the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi – the elected civilian leader overthrown and then arrested in the coup. The military filed charges against her and the deposed President Win Myint on Wednesday.

The lawmakers are among hundreds who were confined by the military to guest houses before being told they were free to leave.

The streets are for the most part calm with no sign of major protest and a night-time curfew in force.

However, hospitals have seen protests. Many medics have either stopped work, or continued while wearing symbols of defiance to oppose the suppression of Myanmar’s short-lived democracy.

But rallies in support of the coup have also been staged.

‘Absolutely unacceptable’
The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has meanwhile called for constitutional order to be re-established in Myanmar – also known as Burma. He said he hoped there would be unity in the Security Council on the matter.

“We’ll do everything we can to mobilise all the key actors of the international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails,” he said.

Suu Kyi’s whereabouts still unclear
Ms Suu Kyi is reported to be held at her residence in the capital.

The charges against her include breaching import and export laws, and possession of unlawful communication devices – walkie-talkies used by her security staff.

President Myint is accused of breaching Covid rules while campaigning for last November’s election.

The military, led by armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing, installed an 11-member junta. It said this was necessary as the election had been fraudulent – though the country’s election commission said there was no evidence of such fraud.

Myanmar at a glance
Myanmar is a country of 54 million people in South East Asia which shares borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand and Laos.

It was ruled by an oppressive military government from 1962 to 2011, leading to international condemnation and sanctions.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent years campaigning for democratic reforms. A gradual liberalisation began in 2010, though the military still retained considerable influence.

A government led by Ms Suu Kyi came to power after free elections in 2015. But a deadly military crackdown two years later on Rohingya Muslims sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to Bangladesh and triggered a rift between Ms Suu Kyi and the international community.

She has remained popular at home and her party won again by a landslide in the November 2020 election. But the military have now stepped in to take control once more.