YANGON – Myanmar’s generals ordered internet providers to restrict access to Facebook on Thursday, days after they seized power, as UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world must rally to ensure the military putsch fails.
The Southeast Asian nation was plunged back into direct military rule on Monday as de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders were detained in a series of dawn raids, ending the country’s brief experiment with democracy.
The coup 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 armed soldiers 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.
Telenor, one of the country’s main telecoms providers, confirmed Thursday that authorities had issued an order to “temporarily block” access to Facebook.
The Norwegian-owned company said it had to comply but “does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law”.
Facebook confirmed access “is currently disrupted for some people” and it urged authorities to restore connectivity.
NetBlocks, which monitors internet outages around the world, said the disruptions were also affecting Facebook-owned apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
For many in Myanmar, Facebook is the gateway to the internet and a vital way to gather information.
“The first thing we look at each morning is our phone, the last thing we look at in the night is our phone,” Aye, a 32-year-old entrepreneur opposed to the coup, told AFP.
‘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.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable to reverse the results of the elections and the will of the people.”
Min Aung Hlaing justified his coup by alleging widespread voter fraud during November’s election.
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.
International and local observers — as well as Myanmar’s own election monitor — reported no major issues that might have affected the integrity of the vote.
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.
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.
The United States said it was “disturbed” by the charge.
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 circumnavigating sanctions from the junta years.