11 July 2024

Facebook services in Myanmar were disrupted on Thursday, days after the army seized power, as UN chief Antonio Guterres warned the world must rally to ensure the military putsch fails.

Myanmar plunged back into direct military rule on Monday when soldiers detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders in a series of dawn raids, ending the country’s brief experiment with democracy.

The coup has sparked international condemnation and fears the military will drag 54 million people back to the decades of junta rule that turned Myanmar into one of Asia’s most impoverished and repressive nations.

With soldiers and armoured cars back on the streets of major cities, the takeover has not been met by any large street protests.

But people have flocked to social media to voice opposition and share plans for civil disobedience, especially on Facebook — which for many in Myanmar is the gateway to the internet.

On Thursday, Facebook and internet monitors confirmed service providers were restricting access to some services, including Facebook itself, its messaging app, WhatsApp and Instagram.

“We are aware that access to Facebook is currently disrupted for some people,” a company spokesperson told AFP.

“We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information.”

NetBlocks, which monitors internet outages around the world, said multiple internet providers in Myanmar were restricting access “as operators comply with an apparent blocking order”.

‘Coup must fail’

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing‘s coup has left the international community scrambling to respond.

On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Guterres said he would pressure Myanmar’s generals to reverse course, in his most forceful comments yet.

“We will do everything we can to mobilise all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails,” Guterres told 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.

Min Aung Hlaing justified his coup by alleging widespread voter fraud during November’s election, which international observers and Myanmar’s own election monitor declared broadly fair and free.

Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since she was detained, won a huge landslide with her National League for Democracy (NLD) while the military’s favoured parties received a drubbing.

Myanmar’s junta-era constitution ensures the military retains considerable influence, including a quarter of parliamentary seats and control of key ministries.

But analysts say top generals feared their influence was waning and were dismayed by the enduring appeal of Suu Kyi with voters.

On Wednesday authorities brought an obscure charge against the 75-year-old to justify her ongoing detention.

According to her party, she was charged with an offence under Myanmar’s import and export law after authorities found unregistered walkie-talkies at her home.

A similarly unorthodox charge under the country’s disaster management law against President Win Myint revolved around him allegedly breaching anti-coronavirus measures last year by meeting voters on the campaign trail.

The United States said it was “disturbed” by the charges.

People light up their mobile phone after calls for protest went out on social media in Yangon on February 3, 2021, as Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was formally charged on Wednesday two days after she was detained in a military coup. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Limited options

Myanmar’s military has declared a one-year state of emergency and said it would hold new elections once its allegations of voter irregularities were addressed.

That has caused huge anger inside the nation. But opposing the military is fraught with risk.

During junta rule, dissent was quashed with thousands of activists — including Suu Kyi — detained for years on end.

Censorship was pervasive and the military frequently deployed lethal force, most notably during huge protests in 1988 and 2007.

The new government has already issued a warning telling people not to say or post anything that might “encourage riots or an unstable situation”.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting Tuesday but failed to agree on a statement condemning the coup.

To be adopted, it required the support of China and Russia, which both wield veto power as permanent Security Council members and are Myanmar’s main supporters at the UN.

Diplomats said Russia and China asked for more time to finesse the Security Council’s response.

International options may be limited.

Senior generals like Min Aung Hlaing are already international pariahs and under US sanctions for the army’s brutal crackdown against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, a campaign UN investigators have described as a genocide.

The military also has decades of experience brushing off and circumnavigating sanctions from the junta years.