The military, which seized control of the state in a February 2021 coup, continued to repress internet freedom in the face of ongoing civil disobedience, political opposition, and armed resistance during the coverage period. Localized internet shutdowns, data price hikes, online trolling, and arbitrary prosecutions that result in long prison terms have created a high-risk and hostile online space for the public at large. The military’s direct and indirect control over all major service providers has enabled the enforcement of strict rules on user identity registration as well as mass censorship and surveillance. Despite these and other obstacles—including detentions, egregious physical violence, and the country’s first executions in decades—people in Myanmar continue to use digital tools to share information and organize opposition to the military.
Myanmar’s already-stalled democratic transition was completely derailed by the February 2021 coup, in which the military arrested dozens of civilian government officials and prevented a newly elected parliament from convening. The National Unity Government (NUG) has led a broad-based opposition to the takeover, overseeing a countrywide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) as well as armed resistance, and exercising partial or effective control over a growing swathe of territory outside major population centers. Protesters, journalists, activists, and ordinary people risk criminal charges, detention, and lethal violence for voicing dissent against the military. Millions of people remain displaced or have been newly displaced by violence, including hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority group.
- The military’s broad attempts to make the internet a hostile space, combined with a faltering economy and attacks on infrastructure, resulted in a globally rare decline in internet penetration (see A1).
- Authorities frequently enforced short-term, localized internet shutdowns to prevent the opposition from organizing or sharing information about atrocities, effectively restricting internet access for millions of users (see A3).
- After the country’s last two foreign-owned telecommunications service providers, Telenor and Ooredoo, sold their Myanmar operations, all providers were left under either direct or indirect military control, enabling mass interception without safeguards (see A4).
- Most interest users remained confined to a list of approximately 1,500 military-approved websites; only those with circumvention tools were able to bypass extensive blocking and reach other internet resources (see B1).
- Scores of internet users were imprisoned for their online activities during the coverage period; military courts issued multiyear prison sentences and carried out executions in some cases (see C3 and C7).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||2.002 6.006|
Though internet penetration in Myanmar has generally expanded in recent years, access decreased during the coverage period amid damage to infrastructure, internet shutdowns (see A3), and high costs imposed by the military (see A2). By early 2023, 44 percent of the population used the internet, according to the Digital 2023 report, a decrease from 45.9 percent in January 2022.1 Separately, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported an internet penetration rate of 44 percent as of 2021.2 In 2018, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) set targets to cover 99 percent of the population with a mobile network and 95 percent with mobile broadband service by the end of 2022, but it has fallen short of these targets.3
Most internet users in Myanmar rely on mobile services.4 The number of mobile connections fell to 64.6 million in February 2023, from 73 million in January 2022, representing a 118.8 percent penetration rate.5 The penetration rate was relatively high during the first two years following the coup because many users had multiple SIM cards,6 discarding and replacing them to avoid surveillance and boycott military-controlled service providers.7 Fixed-line and wireless broadband represented just 0.5 percent of subscriptions in 2020; while this number had not changed in several years,8 it may have increased in some urban areas during the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic.9
Telecommunications infrastructure has been damaged as a consequence of the armed conflict between the military and NUG-led resistance forces, and expansion has similarly been curtailed by physical insecurity. A state-controlled newspaper reported that more than 400 cell towers were destroyed between February and December 2021.10 The military has planted land mines around other towers, and telecommunications providers stopped servicing towers after at least four engineers were seriously injured by unmarked mines in September and October 2021.11
The NUG stated in February 2023 that it had started providing a publicly accessible internet connection of unknown quality to at least 15 townships in areas outside military control.12 Meanwhile, several cases reported by digital rights defenders during the coverage period indicated that community-led efforts to purchase telecommunications equipment and establish small-scale infrastructure have faced significant barriers. An improvised tower erected by one community was reportedly destroyed by the military.13 Attempts by a border community to purchase equipment from China was reportedly blocked by Indian authorities.14
Infrastructure development has also been hampered by flooding, unreliable electricity, an inefficient bureaucracy, and corruption in the private and public sectors. Daily power outages throughout the coverage period ranged from 5 to 16 hours in length.15 During the previous coverage period, in March 2022, the Ministry of Power and Energy announced that 24-hour outages could occur in parts of Myanmar due to infrastructure repairs, though other sources claimed that daylong outages were already taking place in Yangon.16
- 1Simon Kemp, “Digital 2023: Myanmar,” Datareportal, February 13, 2023, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-myanmar?rq=myanmar. See previous Freedom on the Net reports.
- 2“Myanmar,” Digital Development Dashboard, International Telecommunications Union, accessed April 24, 2022, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Dashboards/Pages/Digital-Develo….
- 3Government of Myanmar, “Executive Summary: Universal Service Strategy for Myanmar 2018–2022,” January 2018, https://ptd.gov.mm/ckfinder/userfiles/files/Executive Summary of Universal Service Strategy (English)_0.pdf
- 4“Speedtest Global Index Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” Ookla, accessed on March 16, 2022, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/republic-of-the-union-of-myanmar; “Establishing Internet Exchange in Myanmar,” Ministry of Transport and Communications, September 7, 2020, https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/6%20Myanmar%20CLMV-%20Inter…
- 5“Digital 2023: Myanmar,” Datareportal, February 13, 2023, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-myanmar?rq=myanmar;
- 6Subscribers number 127.2% of the population size, as people often have multiple SIM cards, see “Digital 2021: Myanmar,” Datareportal, February 21, 2021, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-myanmar
- 7See, e.g., “Sanction Mytel for complicity in the Myanmar military’s crimes!,” Justice for Myanmar, June 14, 2022, https://www.justiceformyanmar.org/press-releases/sanction-mytel-for-com….
- 8Ministry of Transport and Communications, “Establishing Internet Exchange in Myanmar,” September 7, 2020, https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/6%20Myanmar%20CLMV-%20Inter…
- 9“How is Covid-19 transforming Myanmar’s digital economy?”, Oxford Business Group, June 30, 2020, https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/news/how-covid-19-transforming-myanmar%…
- 10“Hundreds of telecoms towers downed in Myanmar coup resistance,” Reuters, December 3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/hundreds-telecoms-towers-dow…
- 11“Myanmar Resistance Claims Rising Junta Casualties, Destruction of Telecom Towers,” RFA, October 8, 2021. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/resistance-claims-100820211559…
- 12“Myanmar’s Civilian Government Provides Internet in Rebel-Held Territory,” The Irrawaddy Times English, February 7, 2023, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmars-civilian-government-provi…
- 13Discussions with digital rights defenders, May 29, 2023.
- 14Discussions with digital rights defenders, May 29, 2023.
- 15“Myanmar Power Shortage Leaves Millions at Mercy of Searing Summer,” Irrawaddy, accessed September 2023, https://www.irrawaddy.com/features/myanmar-power-shortage-leaves-millio…
- 16“Public anger grows in Myanmar over junta’s power cuts,” RFA, March 8, 2022, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/power-03082022162906.html
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||0.000 3.003|
The cost of internet access has sharply increased for most users since the coup. Price increases imposed by the military—combined with inflationary pressures and increased unemployment1 —have forced poorer people in Myanmar to reduce their usage or stop it altogether.2 Some have sold their devices to pay for basic needs.3 Widespread internet shutdowns in conflict-affected areas have left large populations without access, though a very small number of opposition activists are able to use expensive satellite connections (see A3).4
The military-controlled MoTC ordered all mobile service providers to double their data prices in December 2021,5 with 1 GB of nonpackaged mobile data costing 10,000 kyat ($4.70).6 The MoTC also imposed a purchase tax of 20,000 kyat ($9.40) on SIM-card sales in January 2022, tripled telecommunications firms’ corporate taxes to 15 percent,7 and created a 6,000-kyat ($2.80) tax for mandatory registration of international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) numbers.8 The military said the price increases were necessary to reduce the “effects triggered by extreme use of internet services on the employment of the people and mental sufferings of new generation students.”9 Mobile service providers that were not at the time affiliated with the military reported that they did not request these increases.10
Users in large urban areas can access fixed-line and wireless broadband, which halved in price between 2018 and 2021.11 As of March 2023, the average fixed-line connection cost 45,000 kyat ($21.20) per month, with the cheapest connection costing 22,000 kyat ($10.40).12 In comparison, the average price of 1 GB of mobile data was $1.11, with the cheapest connection costing $1.13 Given the disparities in access to broadband and mobile networks (see A1 and A2), poorer and rural internet users, already lacking devices and struggling with the country’s rapid postcoup financial downturn,14 experienced far greater relative increases in internet-access costs than richer urban users.
In 2018, the MoTC established a Universal Service Fund (USF), supported by a 2 percent tax on telecommunications providers.15 The USF was meant to address regional infrastructural gaps and connect 99 percent of the population to telecommunications services by 2022.16 Its initial phase started in 2020,17 but the effort was suspended due to the 2021 coup.18 In June 2020, the civilian government diverted USF funding to pay for a biometric database of mobile subscribers (see C4),19 and in October 2022, the fund’s resources were directed toward building a comprehensive SIM Registration Management System.20
The disparity in access between men and women persists. According to ITU estimates from 2017, which are the most recent available, only 19 percent of women had internet access, compared with 29 percent of men.21 For women, barriers to owning and using a mobile phone to access the internet include perceived lack of relevance, high costs, and insufficient literacy skills.22
- 1World Bank, “Myanmar’s economic recovery slowed by high prices and shortages”, June 27, 2023, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2023/06/25/myanmar-s-ec…
- 2Andrew Heffner, “Myanmar’s internet gets pricier for dissenters, apolitical alike,” Al Jazeera, February 11, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/2/11/myanmars-internet-gets-pric…; “Decline in internet user rates in rural areas after increasing internet data prices”, Burma News International, January 14, 2022, https://www.bnionline.net/mm/news-87800
- 3Andrew Heffner, “Myanmar’s internet gets pricier for dissenters, apolitical alike,” Al Jazeera, February 11, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/2/11/myanmars-internet-gets-pric…
- 4Satellite receivers are used by some opposition forces to coordinate their response to the military. The civilian population does not have access because the receivers are both extremely expensive, technically difficult to run, and a serious security risk. For example, Starlink arrived with a first single satellite receiver in June 2023: https://mizzima.com/article/free-burma-rangers-boss-thanks-elon-musk-br…
- 5Andrew Heffner, “Myanmar’s internet gets pricier for dissenters, apolitical alike,” Al Jazeera, February 11, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/2/11/myanmars-internet-gets-pric…
- 610 Kyat per MB https://www.atom.com.mm/en/personal/packages-and-plans/plans#prepaid see also https://ooredoo.com.mm/portal/en/newtarrif.
- 7“Myanmar Junta Raises SIM and Internet Taxes to Silence Opposition,” The Irawaddy, January 12, 2022, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-raises-sim-and-inter…
- 8Khit Thit Media, Facebook post, June 7, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/khitthitnews/photos/a.386800725090613/15154089…
- 9Aung Naing, “Junta says hefty new telecoms taxes will curb ‘extreme use of internet services,’” Myanmar Now, January 8, 2022, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/junta-says-hefty-new-telecoms-taxes…
- 10Personal discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 11The average broadband cost has dropped in Yangon from $72.31 per month in 2017 to $27 in 2021, see “Compare our best broadband deals,” Cable, [n.d.], https://www.cable.co.uk/broadband/pricing/worldwide-comparison/#regions.
- 12“The price of fixed-line broadband in 211 countries,” Cable, accessed on April 24, 2023, https://www.cable.co.uk/broadband/pricing/worldwide-comparison/#regions
- 13“Worldwide mobile data pricing 2022,” Cable, accessed on April 24, 2023, https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/.
- 14The percentage of households with a computer was 13.64 percent in 2017, 11 percent in 2016, compared to 37.8 percent on average for the Asia Pacific region. The percentage of households with internet access was 24.38 percent in 2017, 20 percent in 2016, compared to an average of 45.5 percent for the Asia Pacific region, see “ICT Development Index 2017 – Myanmar,” International Telecommunications Union (ITU), [n.d.], http://www.itu.int/net4/ITU-D/idi/2017/index.html - idi2017economycard-tab&MMR.
- 15Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Government to collect tax to fund telecoms in rural areas,” Myanmar Times, April 24, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20220121020506/https://www.mmtimes.com/news….
- 16Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Government to collect tax to fund telecoms in rural areas,” Myanmar Times, April 24, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20220121020506/https://www.mmtimes.com/news….
- 17“A tender acceptance and opening ceremony was held for 9 Phase I townships / cities to be operated by USF program,” Ministry of Transport and Communications, December 6, 2020, https://perma.cc/H34X-XM54
- 18“Temporary suspension of Phase II and Phase III tenders submitted by Universal Service Fund,” Ministry of Transport and Communications, March 23, 2021, https://perma.cc/P34S-5WQW
- 19Thompson Chau, “Myanmar diverts special telecoms fund to biometrics database,” Myanmar Times, June 11, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200629193959/https://www.mmtimes.com/news….
- 20“Tender announcement to establish SIM Registration Management System,” Post and Telecommunications Department, Ministry of Transport and Communications, October 28, 2022, https://www.ptd.gov.mm/AnnouncementDetail.aspx?id=3YubGy/sj1HUWe8XbffIF…
- 21Myanmar, Digital Development Dashboard, International Telecommunications Union, accessed April 24, 2022, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Dashboards/Pages/Digital-Develo….
- 22Datareportal, “Digital 2022: Myanmar,” Datareportal, March 18, 2022, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-myanmar
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||0.000 6.006|
The military has repeatedly shut down telecommunications services since seizing direct power. In the early hours of February 1, 2021, armed soldiers forcefully entered telecommunications providers’ offices and demanded a national internet shutdown.1 The military also instructed service providers to implement extensive restrictions on specific targets, blocking access to websites, applications, and social media platforms (see B1). Since then, the military has frequently restricted connectivity by ordering internet shutdowns, slowdowns, and blocks while threatening service providers to ensure their compliance.2
Following the nationwide shutdowns imposed in early 2021, localized internet restrictions continued during the coverage period.3 Connectivity is typically curtailed in areas where pro-NUG forces are particularly active, and online cuts coincide with severe offline crackdowns by the military.4 Cuts were reported in Chin State, Kachin State, Karen State, Magway Region, and the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, and Naypyidaw, affecting millions of users.5 Sagaing Region has faced especially long disruptions, with an indefinite service cut beginning in March 2022.6 The military has reportedly used portable signal jammers to restrict local communications when raiding villages.7 Slowdowns and interruptions to fixed-line connections also emerged in Yangon and other cities during the coverage period.8
The military was influential in the precoup civilian government's decisions to restrict connectivity. In June 2019, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government imposed a mobile-service shutdown affecting 1.4 million people in Rakhine and Chin States, in an attempt to conceal atrocities committed against the Rohingya ethnic group.9 Connectivity was restricted at the military’s behest in order to “maintain stability and law and order,”10 with restoration expected only after the “security situation” improved.11 Access was briefly restored in these areas in February 2021.12
The MoTC has significant powers to disrupt connectivity without oversight or safeguards, as it controls much of the telecommunications infrastructure via the state-owned company Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). Private-sector providers were gradually diversifying ownership of mobile infrastructure and the internet backbone prior to the coup. Myanmar has three underwater and four overland internet gateways,13 and more were expected, including new satellite connections,14 because of a projected 70 percent growth in bandwidth.15 However, this diversification may not materialize as the military seeks to strengthen its grip on Myanmar’s internet infrastructure (see A4).16
- 1Military-controlled telcos, Mytel and MPT, shut down access from 6:30am until 11:30am. Independent mobile telcos, Ooredoo and Telenor shut down access from 3:30am until 2:30pm. Independent broadband telco, Frontiir never shut down access: https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3473604.34745623. See also "Internet disrupted in Myanmar amid apparent military uprising," NetBlocks, January 31, 2021, https://netblocks.org/reports/internet-disrupted-in-myanmar-amid-appare…
- 2“UN review of internet shutdowns including Myanmar,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 28, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/un-review-of-internet-shutdowns-inclu…
- 3“Internet disruptions in Sagaing region, including Monywa,” DVB Burmese, May 24, 2022, http://burmese.dvb.no/archives/535099
- 4“Myanmar Junta Cuts Internet Access in Anti-Regime Resistance Strongholds,” The Irawaddy, September 15, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-cuts-internet-access… ; “Internet disruptions in Sagaing region, including Monywa,” DVB Burmese, May 24, 2022, http://burmese.dvb.no/archives/535099
- 5“Disconnections and vanishing rights,” Athan Myanmar, May, 2023, https://athanmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Eng2.1.pdf
- 6Khin Yi Yi Zaw, “Myanmar junta cuts off internet access ‘indefinitely’ to resistance stronghold of Sagaing,” Myanmar Now, March 4, 2022, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/myanmar-junta-cuts-off-internet-acc…; “Disconnections and vanishing rights,” Athan Myanmar, May, 2023, https://athanmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Eng2.1.pdf.
- 7“Internet disruptions in Sagaing region, including Monywa,” DVB Burmese, May 24, 2022, http://burmese.dvb.no/archives/535099
- 8“O file, Fiber internet lines and MPT Internet lines are slow and intermittent,” News Eleven, August 11, 2022, https://news-eleven.com/article/235497
- 9"United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner, “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Interactive Dialogue with the Human Rights Council,” March 10, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25698…; “Civil society marks 1-year of world’s longest internet shutdown,” Free Expression Myanmar, June 21, 2020, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/civil-society-marks-1-year-of-worlds-l….
- 10Andrew Nachemson and Lun Min Mang, “Fighting in Rakhine, Chin states rages as Myanmar limits internet,” Al Jazeera, March 5, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/fighting-rakhine-chin-states-rag…. An online campaign was started to monitor and track the shutdown, see Facebook account: အင်တာနက်ဖြတ်တောက်မှု ရပ်, @StopInternetShutDownMM, https://www.facebook.com/StopInternetShutDownMM/; “Myanmar: Internet Shutdown Risks Lives,” Human Rights Watch, June 28, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/28/myanmar-internet-shutdown-risks-liv…; Thompson Chau, “Protesters demand end to internet blackout in Rakhine,” Myanmar Times, December 25, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/28/myanmar-internet-shutdown-risks-liv….
- 11Myat Thura, “Govt defends internet shutdown in Rakhine,” Myanmar Times, February 24, 2020, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/govt-defends-internet-shutdown-rakhine.html; “Internet ban will be lifted if peace and stability is restored: Deputy Minister,” Eleven Media Group, February 9, 2020, https://elevenmyanmar.com/news/internet-ban-will-be-lifted-if-peace-and….
- 12"In Myanmar, one blackout ends, another begins," Rest of World, February 10, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/myanmar-one-blackout-ends-another-begins/; United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner, “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Interactive Dialogue with the Human Rights Council,” March 10, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25698…; “Civil society marks 1-year of world’s longest internet shutdown,” Free Expression Myanmar, June 21, 2020, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/civil-society-marks-1-year-of-worlds-l….
- 13Ministry of Transport and Communications, “Establishing Internet Exchange in Myanmar,” September 7, 2020, https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/6%20Myanmar%20CLMV-%20Inter….
- 14Dylan Bushell-Embling, “Myanmar to use Intelsat 39 satellite,” Telecomasia.net, June 4, 2018, https://www.telecomasia.net/content/myanmar-use-intelsat-39-satellite.
- 15Thomas Kean, “Myanmar’s broadband price war,” Frontier Myanmar, April 23, 2018, https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/myanmars-broadband-price-war.
- 16Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||0.000 6.006|
The military directly controls two of Myanmar’s four telecommunications service providers. The military-owned Mytel, part of which is indirectly owned by the Vietnamese military, was licensed in 2017,1 and had approximately 10 million subscribers as of June 2020;2 it later faced a consumer boycott after the coup.3 The company was accused in 2022 of facilitating military atrocity crimes.4 Following the coup, the military also seized direct control of state-owned MPT,5 which last reported having 24 million subscribers in early 2020.6
The other two service providers, ATOM (formerly Telenor) and Ooredoo, were operated by independent foreign companies prior to the coup, but they are now under the ownership of firms with links to the military. In September 2022, the Qatari company Ooredoo sold its Myanmar operations to Nine Communications, a Singapore-based subsidiary that is reportedly owned by military-linked individuals.7 Ooredoo reported 13 million subscribers as of October 2020;8 Reuters reported 9 million Ooredoo subscribers in 2022.9 Although Ooredoo adopted a low profile after the coup and benefited from the customer boycott of Mytel,10 it has likely employed the military’s surveillance technology.11 In March 2022, the military approved the sale of the Norwegian company Telenor’s local operations to Lebanese company M1, on the condition that the local firm Shwe Byain Phyu hold an 80 percent stake.12 Military leader Min Aung Hlaing was involved in the negotiations, and there were reports that his daughter bought a stake in the local provider.13 Shwe Byain Phyu rebranded Telenor’s local operation as ATOM in June 2022.14 Civil society groups strongly criticized Telenor’s sale to Shwe Byain Phyu, raising concerns that the military would use Telenor’s network and data to identify members of opposition groups.15 Telenor had announced its intention to sell its Myanmar operations in July 2021, after receiving military orders to activate surveillance technology that was banned by European Union sanctions (see C5).16
The military has not made significant public attempts to seize control of fixed-line broadband providers but is heavily investing in marketing efforts for Mytel’s broadband services.17
Before the coup, the administration of licenses was generally regarded as fair and transparent, and external efforts to influence decisions were largely rebuffed.18 Deregulation in 2013 removed many of the legal and regulatory barriers to entry for internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile service providers, leading to a proliferation in the number of licenses awarded. At least 207 telecommunications licenses had been awarded by 2020.19
- 1MyTel is jointly owned by Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public Co Ltd (23 percent), Star High Public Co Ltd (28 percent), and Viettel Global (49 percent). Star High is a subsidiary of the military-run Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). Viettel Global is owned by the Vietnam Ministry of Defense, see Kyaw Phone Kyaw, “Fourth telco MyTel to start selling SIM cards in March,” Myanmar Times, February 14, 2018, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/fourth-telco-mytel-start-selling-sim-cards…. See also Aung Kyaw Nyunt and Pyae Thet Phyo, “Myanmar’s fourth telco gets licence at last,” Myanmar Times, January 13, 2017, https://www.mmtimes.com/business/technology/24533-myanmar-s-fourth-telc….
- 2"Mytel has 10 million subscribers in two years," Bizhub, June 5, 2020, http://bizhub.vn/tech/mytel-has-10-million-subscribers-in-two-years_316…
- 3“Mytel loses millions of dollars and subscribers since coup,” Mizzima, November 7, 2021, https://mizzima.com/article/mytel-loses-millions-dollars-and-subscriber….
- 4“Justice for Myanmar: Mytel complicit in junta crimes against humanity,” Mizzima, June 17, 2022, https://www.mizzima.com/article/justice-myanmar-mytel-complicit-junta-c…
- 5Fanny Potkin and Poppy Mcpherson, “How Myanmar’s military moved in on the telecoms sector to spy on citizens,” Reuters, May 18, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/how-myanmars-military-moved-…
- 6Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/telcos-say-data-helps-police-solve-cases-m…. See also https://www.telenor.com.mm/en/article/telenor-introduces-telenor-wellne….
- 7Hein Htoo Zan, "Military Crony Linked to New Ownership of Ooredoo’s Myanmar Unit", Irrawaddy, September 12, 2022, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/military-crony-linked-to-new-owner…
- 8Ooredoo subscriber data is from October 2020: https://www.telecompaper.com/news/ooredoo-myanmar-grows-customer-base-3…
- 9Fanny Potkin, “EXCLUSIVE Qatar telecoms firm Ooredoo in talks to sell its Myanmar unit – sources,” Reuters, July 20, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/markets/deals/exclusive-qatar-telecoms-firm-oor….
- 10“Ooredoo Myanmar reports 8% growth in revenue in 2021,” Myanmar Business Today, March, 4, 2022,https://mmbiztoday.com/ooredoo-myanmar-reports-8-growth-in-revenue-in-2….
- 11Discussions with digital rights defenders, June 6, 2022.
- 12Victoria Klesty, “Telenor quits Myanmar with $105 mln sale to Lebanon's M1 Group,” Reuters, July 8, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/telenor-sells-myanmar-op… ; Aung Naing, “The crony who will control Telenor Myanmar’s customer data ,” Myanmar Now, March 4, 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20221125063825/https://www.myanmar-now.org/….
- 13Poppy Mcpherson and Fanny Potkin, “EXCLUSIVE Myanmar junta backs Telenor unit sale after buyer M1 pairs with local firm – sources,” Reuters, January 20, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/exclusive-myanmar-junta-…; “Junta Chief’s Daughter Acquires Slice of Telenor’s Myanmar Operation,” The Irawaddy, March 25, 2022, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/junta-chiefs-daughter-acquires-sli….
- 14James Barton, “Up and ATOM: Telenor Myanmar rebrands and pledges 5G investment,” Developing Telecoms, https://www.developingtelecoms.com/telecom-business/operator-news/13592…
- 15Morgan Meaker, “Myanmar’s Fight for Democracy Is Now a Scrap Over Phone Records,” February 8, 2022, https://www.wired.com/story/telenor-myanmar-phone-records/; “It’s not over until it’s over: sanctions must stop Telenor’s sale to the Myanmar military,” Access Now, March 18, 2022, https://www.accessnow.org/sanctions-telenor-sale-to-myanmar-military/.
- 16“Continued presence in Myanmar not possible for Telenor,” Telenor, September 15, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20220403042354/https://www.telenor.com/medi….
- 17Mytel is using sales agents to create large numbers of organic ads on Facebook across a variety of groups and pages. Discussions with digital rights defenders, June 16, 2022.
- 18Even at the last moment, MPs attempted to derail the process of giving out licenses. See Gwen Robinson, “Myanmar telco auction: the good and the bad,” Financial Times, June 27, 2013, https://www.ft.com/content/befaee5a-22cc-33e3-a8d3-84ce27742dc3
- 19Ministry of Transport and Communications, “Establishing Internet Exchange in Myanmar,” September 7, 2020, https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/6%20Myanmar%20CLMV-%20Inter….
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||0.000 4.004|
Myanmar’s regulatory bodies have been under the authority of the military since the February 2021 coup. The MoTC’s Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD) is responsible for regulating the telecommunications sector. As a ministerial department run by former military officers, the PTD has no legal or practical safeguards for its regulatory and operational independence, leaving it completely open to political interference.1
The military has controlled the PTD’s regulation of telecommunications companies and licensing since seizing power; civilian ministers of the MoTC were replaced with military appointees.2 PTD decisions have been kept secret since the coup, but their effects demonstrated a lack of independence and transparency. For instance, the PTD did not pursue regulatory enforcement measures against Mytel, which ignored its orders on shutdowns, blocking, competition, and gambling3 —including a Facebook ban4 —in an apparent attempt to increase its subscriber base after the consumer boycott (see A4). The PTD’s interference in Telenor’s request to sell its Myanmar operations also showed bias in favor of the military’s interests (see A4).5 The PTD has publicly threatened its own staff for participating in prodemocracy protests and strikes.6
Article 86 of the 2013 Telecommunications Law outlines the responsibilities of a Myanmar Communications Regulatory Commission (MCRC), which has not been established.7 Even though the mandate for the MCRC’s composition does not sufficiently safeguard its independence, the Telecommunications Law calls for the MCRC to take over regulatory functions from the PTD. The MCRC would also operate a mechanism to adjudicate any administrative disputes in the telecommunications sector.8 Many analysts suggested that the NLD government failed to establish the MCRC because it was unwilling to relinquish the more direct control it had over the telecommunications sector through the PTD.9
- 1Discussions with participants at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon on January 18, 2019.
- 2Chester Toh and Jainil Bhandari, “Myanmar: The Legal Landscape,” Getting the Deal Through, November 2018, https://gettingthedealthrough.com/country-focus/article/6460/myanmar-le…; “History of the Ministry of Transport and Communications,” Ministry of Transport and Communications, March 20, 2023, https://www.motc.gov.mm/my/ပြည်ထောင်စုသမ္မတမြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်-ပို့ဆောင်ရ…
- 3“Boycott and coup attempt cost Mytel USD$24.9 million in three months,” Justice for Myanmar, November 5, 2021, https://justiceformyanmar.github.io/justiceformyanmar.org/stories/boyco…
- 4Ramon Solabarrieta, Facebook post, https://www.facebook.com/ramon.solabarrieta/videos/1024744474784118/
- 5Telenor’s request was for permission to sell. However, the regulator’s response was to require Telenor to sell to the military’s preferred buyer.
- 6"ပို့ဆောင်ရေးနှင့်ဆက်သွယ်ရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန၏ လုပ်ငန်းညှိနှိုင်းအစည်းအဝေး အမှတ်စဉ် (၂/၂၀၂၁) ကျင်းပ, [Coordination Meeting No. (2/2021) of the Ministry of Transport and Communications was held]," Ministry of Transport and Communications, June 3, 2021, https://perma.cc/QK54-37Q4
- 7Namali Premawardhana, “Myanmar forges ahead in ICT,” Myanmar Times, December 18, 2017, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/myanmar-forges-ahead-ict.html.
- 8Namali Premawardhana, “Myanmar forges ahead in ICT,” Myanmar Times, December 18, 2017, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/myanmar-forges-ahead-ict.html
- 9Discussions with experts at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum on January 18, 2019.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||0.000 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 due to the prolonged and extensive nature of the military’s systematic website blocking.
The military has consolidated two distinct blocking regimes. Mobile service providers must block all websites except a list of about 1,500 that have been approved by the military. All fixed-line and wireless broadband service providers, which serve only a small proportion of the public, allow access by default but block many specific addresses. More detailed information about the two blocking regimes was not publicly disclosed during the coverage period.
The military-controlled MoTC regularly issued secretive blocking orders to service providers in the first year following the coup—several per week during the most violent periods—with each containing hundreds of thousands of addresses to block.1 The first such order was issued on February 3, 2021, and targeted Facebook and WhatsApp.2 Orders to block Twitter and Instagram arrived on February 5,3 followed later by blocks on most independent media outlets and international sources of information such as Wikipedia (see B6).4 Some blocking orders were reversed in May 2021.5 Although the orders themselves are typically not announced to the public, subsequent blocking of additional websites, including news outlets, suggested that more orders were being issued.6
The default blocking on mobile services began on May 25, 2021, when the military ordered providers to obstruct access to all websites and internet protocol (IP) addresses except for 1,200 approved addresses that included a large contingent of banking and financial sites, a small number of entertainment sites like YouTube and Netflix, news sites such as the New York Times and US-based Cable News Network (CNN), and gaming platforms.7 The list of approved addresses was updated in 2022 to add business sites, including those of local businesses; it is unclear whether further updates have occurred since then.8 Facebook, Twitter, and most independent Burmese-language media outlets were not listed and therefore remained blocked during the coverage period. Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Viber, and Zoom appeared to remain accessible.
Telenor disclosed that MoTC orders issued in 2021 required telecommunications companies to block access to URLs and IP addresses under Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law, which allows authorities to issue blocking orders to license holders in “emergency situations.”9 The military cited goals like “preserving stability” and preventing “fake news” from “spreading misunderstanding.”10
In the immediate aftermath of the coup, service providers did not implement blocking orders consistently,11 with addresses blocked by some providers but not by others.12 For example, Facebook was accessible via at least one broadband provider, despite being subject to a blocking order,13 and for some Mytel subscribers, despite not being on the list of approved sites.14 It was unclear whether this was due to confusion, technical difficulties, or discretion; some staff at service providers reportedly tried to limit the effects of military orders by interpreting them narrowly or subverting their application.15
The military’s attempts to block censorship circumvention tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs) have been indiscriminate and have led to significant collateral damage,16 including the disruption of content delivery networks like Google and Amazon services.17 Blocks have also disrupted banking, transportation, and—during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic—education and health care. Some businesses and banks have raised concerns about their ability to operate.18 In addition, the blocks have reportedly undermined networks outside the country.19
- 1“Whitelisted internet takes Myanmar back to a ‘dark age’,” Frontier Myanmar, June 30, 2021, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/whitelisted-internet-takes-myanmar-b…
- 2"Myanmar’s Military Blocks Access To Facebook After Overthrowing Government," Forbes, February 4, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2021/02/04/myanmars-military-bl…; “Directive to block social media service," Telenor Group, February 3, 2021, https://www.telenor.com/directive-to-block-social-media-service/; "Myanmar junta blocks Facebook, clamping down on opposition to coup," Reuters, February 3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/myanmar-politics-int/myanmar-junta-bloc….
- 3"Directive to block social media services Twitter and Instagram in Myanmar," Telenor Group, February 5, 2021, https://www.telenor.com/directive-to-block-social-media-services-twitte….
- 4"Myanmar's digital regime foreshadows SE Asia," Bangkok Post, March 15, 2021, https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/2083615/myanmars-digital-re…
- 5"Myanmar allows Tinder but axes dissent havens Twitter, Facebook," NIKKEI Asia, May 25, 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Coup/Myanmar-allows-Tinder-bu…; Free Expression Myanmar @FreeExpressMm, "Whitelisting update for #Myanmar. Rolling out today (25 May): @Instagram = ✅ @Viber = ✅ @WhatsApp = ✅ BUT @Facebook = ⛔️ #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #KeepItOn #LetTheNetWork," May 24, 2021, https://twitter.com/FreeExpressMm/status/1396881429586354178.
- 6“Myanmar junta keeps expanding the secret block list,” Qurium, May 27, 2022, https://www.qurium.org/alerts/myanmar-junta-keeps-expanding-the-secret-…
- 7"Myanmar allows Tinder but axes dissent havens Twitter, Facebook," NIKKEI Asia, May 25, 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Crisis/Myanmar-allows-Tinder-….
- 8Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 9Directives from authorities in Myanmar – February-August 2021,” Telenor Group, last updated July 28, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20211221011637/https://www.telenor.com/sust… ; “Myanmar: Immediately lift ban on ethnic news websites," ecoi.net, accessed on September 18, 2021, https://www.ecoi.net/en/document/2027659.html
- 10"Myanmar’s Military Blocks Access To Facebook After Overthrowing Government," Forbes, February 4, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2021/02/04/myanmars-military-bl…; “Directive to block social media service," Telenor Group, February 3, 2021, https://www.telenor.com/directive-to-block-social-media-service/; "Myanmar junta blocks Facebook, clamping down on opposition to coup," Reuters, February 3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/myanmar-politics-int/myanmar-junta-bloc….
- 11See “Myanmar,” Open Observatory of Network Interference, https://explorer.ooni.org/country/MM.
- 12Ramakrishna Padmanabhan et al, “A multi-perspective view of Internet censorship in Myanmar,” Association for Computing Machinery, August 23, 2021, https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3473604.3474562.
- 13Tests carried out on March 16, 2022.
- 14Ramon Solabarrieta, Facebook post, https://www.facebook.com/ramon.solabarrieta/videos/1024744474784118/.
- 15Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 16Ramakrishna Padmanabhan et al, “A multi-perspective view of Internet censorship in Myanmar,” Association for Computing Machinery, August 23, 2021, https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3473604.3474562.
- 17Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 18“Whitelisted internet takes Myanmar back to a ‘dark age’,” Frontier Myanmar, June 30, 2021, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/whitelisted-internet-takes-myanmar-b…
- 19For example, attempts to block Twitter led to access issues for users in other countries too. See Ramakrishna Padmanabhan et al, “A multi-perspective view of Internet censorship in Myanmar,” Association for Computing Machinery, August 23, 2021, https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3473604.3474562.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||1.001 4.004|
State and nonstate actors continued to exert pressure to remove content during the coverage period.
Most independent media outlets have closed, operated clandestinely, or gone into exile in response to the coup and the military’s pressure, including its demands to cease critical coverage.1 Few if any independent publishers remain within military-controlled areas of Myanmar, and those that opted to stay, such as the previously independent outlet Eleven Media, now avoid content that criticizes the military.2 The military began pressuring publishers to delete content soon after staging its coup in February 2021. Officials at first warned journalists and then demanded that media outlets cease critical coverage of the military’s actions, delete any words translating to “regime” and “junta,” and refrain from “biased” reporting (see B5).3 By March 2021, Myanmar’s five daily newspapers had closed down, terminating their online and offline publishing.4 One of the largest outlets, 7DayDaily, deleted its entire website in response to the deteriorating situation.5 The military has continued to threatened publishers for using disfavored terms including “coup” and “Rohingya.”6
Messaging and social media platforms such as Facebook and Telegram have faced ongoing international calls to improve their content moderation in ways that address military propaganda, disinformation, and threats.7 Facebook had already come under mounting pressure from civil society, the media, and foreign governments to invest in and improve content moderation beginning in 2018, when it was criticized for failing to contain inflammatory online content that encouraged violence against the Rohingya people.8
At the same time, digital rights defenders have raised concerns that Facebook’s content moderation has led to the removal of valid content, including commentary and documentation of human rights violations. Some in Myanmar’s civil society sector suspect that these problems stem from weak training among staff and deficient algorithms; others have pointed to discriminatory decision-making among content reviewers.9 Myanmar’s media outlets have faced particular difficulties in navigating Facebook’s community standards while trying to cover the conflict and have reported that they have seen posts removed subject to the platform’s policies on coordinating harm and graphic violence.10
Other platforms have also been criticized for their content moderation efforts. After the February 2021 coup, YouTube initially removed some channels, including the state-owned MRTV and the military-owned Myawaddy Media, MWD Variety, and MWD Myanmar,11 but it has apparently done little since.12 Following international media attention and civil society criticism,13 TikTok removed some videos posted by soldiers on its platform; many such videos depicted soldiers threatening peaceful protesters with various weapons, which were brandished on camera.14 Although Telegram deleted channels such as Han Nyein Oo and Thazin Oo, which had been promoting the military’s propaganda, doxing people, and sexually harassing women activists who opposed the coup, the individuals behind the channels simply started new versions and regained thousands of followers.15
- 1Thompson Chau, “After a year of reporting on Myanmar’s military coup, I knew my luck would eventually run out,” The Guardian, March 9, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/commentisfree/2022/mar/0…
- 2Eleven Media is still operating inside Myanmar, presumably under significant self-censorship. Its coverage is careful to avoid topics or angles that the military may not like. See https://elevenmyanmar.com/
- 3“Amended law throws Myanmar back into the media dark age,” Myanmar Now, https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/amended-law-throws-myanmar-back-into-me…; “Myanmar: Military tightens media restrictions, targets journalists," The International Federation of Journalists, February 17, 2021, https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/health-and-safety…. See also https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/myanmar-junta-accuses-fo…
- 4“Myanmar becomes a nation without newspapers,” Myanmar Now, March 18, 2021, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/myanmar-becomes-a-nation-without-ne….
- 5See http://7daydaily.com
- 6“Myanmar's army rulers threaten those who call them junta,” Reuters, June 30, 2021 https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/myanmars-army-rulers-threate…; “Myanmar's closing of third publishing house appears to represent a new onslaught against literary and creative content,” International Publishers Association, June 7, 2022, https://www.internationalpublishers.org/copyright-news-blog/1219-myanma…
- 7"Myanmar: Social media companies must stand up to junta’s online terror campaign, say UN experts", OHCHR, March 13, 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/03/myanmar-social-media-co…
- 8Kevin Roose and Paul Mozur, “Zuckerberg Was Called Out Over Myanmar Violence. Here’s His Apology.,” April 9, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/business/facebook-myanmar-zuckerberg…
- 9Many media outlets report that Meta frequently removes their posts under its Community Standards. Discussions with media freedom defenders, June 1, 2023.
- 10Laure Siegel, “In Myanmar, journalists raise media voices against the bloody coup,” IPI, February 15, 2023, https://ipi.media/myanmar-journalists-raise-voices/.
- 11"Myanmar coup: YouTube removes channels run by army amid violence," BBC News, March 5, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-56282401
- 12Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022. See also: https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2022/an-open-letter-to-youtubes-c…
- 13'I will shoot whoever I see': Myanmar soldiers use TikTok to threaten protesters," Reuters, March 4, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-tiktok/i-will-shoot-whoever-…; "TikTok is repeating Facebook’s mistakes in Myanmar," Rest of World, March 18, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/tiktok-is-repeating-facebooks-mistakes-in-…
- 14"Myanmar Coup: Soldiers Flood TikTok With Calls to Violence," Vice World News, March 3, 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/jgq34b/myanmar-coup-soldiers-flood-tikt…
- 15“Watermelon suppression: doxing campaign targets pro-democracy soldiers and police,” March 14, 2022, Frontier Myanmar, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/watermelon-suppression-doxing-campai…
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||0.000 4.004|
Since the coup, broad restrictions on digital content have been enforced without transparency and with gross disproportionality. The military-controlled PTD has administered the military’s orders without publishing information on what, why, when, how, or by whom restriction decisions were made.1
The only available sources of information about restrictions have been ministers’ comments to the media, service providers’ statements, and civil society. The only service provider that documented the receipt of PTD orders, Telenor, stopped doing so in mid-February 2021, citing concerns for the safety of its staff.2 Telenor then provided irregular updates until mid-April 2021, and later stopped reporting on the issue entirely.3 During the coverage period, only civil society and media organizations provided information on military blocking orders, though no official and public records exist.
Under the Telecommunications Law, the PTD can direct telecommunications providers to temporarily block and filter content “for the benefit of the people,” and there is no mechanism for appeals.4 There were no legal challenges to content restrictions either before or after the coup. The NLD government occasionally articulated vague aims, and the military, when it did offer a rationale, included only broad references to “fake news” and the need to protect national stability and ensure public security.5
Although it was not enacted during the coverage period, a new draft Cyber Security Law introduced in January 2022 would require digital platforms to remove a wide range of content, including “verbal statements against any existing law,” “expressions that damage an individual’s social standing and livelihood,” and material “disrupting unity, stabilization, and peace.” The draft law offers no transparency or appeal mechanisms. Sanctions under the bill include blocking orders and criminal liability for company representatives, who could face up to three years in prison for violations.6
The increase in social media companies’ content moderation in recent years has not been matched by an increase in transparency about moderation policies, including appeal processes. In 2018, Facebook increased its moderation activity, expanded its appeal process,7 and established a self-regulatory Oversight Board.8 However, the platform’s parent company, Meta, publishes very little information about its moderation and appeal process, aside from routine transparency disclosures about global content removals.9 In August 2021, the Oversight Board overturned a decision to remove a Myanmar post that was labeled as hate speech; the post discussed possible methods to limit financing for the military.10 Telegram has also displayed pronounced deficiencies in transparency surrounding its content moderation.11
Global digital platforms largely avoided establishing facilities within Myanmar before the coup due to the high risk of intimidation and weak legal safeguards (see C2). Those with employees inside the country quickly evacuated them after the coup began,12 though some consultants were detained by military authorities.13
- 1Free Expression Myanmar, ”Official Secrets Act”, February 27, 2027, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/official-secrets-act/
- 2“Directives from authorities in Myanmar – February-August 2021,” Telenor Group, September 15, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20220614072628/https://www.telenor.com/sust…
- 3“Directives from authorities in Myanmar – February-August 2021,” Telenor Group, last updated July 28, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20220614072628/https://www.telenor.com/sust…
- 4“Telecommunications Law – Law. No. 31/2013,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/telecommuni….
- 5“The MoTC cites legal basis in Myanmar’s Telecommunication Law, and references circulation of fake news, stability of the nation and interest of the public as basis for the order,” from: “Data network restored in Myanmar,” Telenor Group, February 6, 2021, https://www.telenor.com/media/press-release/myanmar-authorities-orders-…; see also “Myanmar citizens oppose military takeover on social media,” Nikkei Asia, February 4, 2022, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Crisis/Myanmar-citizens-oppos…; Kin Yi Yi Zaw, “Myanmar junta cuts off internet access ‘indefinitely’ to resistance stronghold of Sagaing,” Myanmar Now, March 4, 2022, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/myanmar-junta-cuts-off-internet-acc….
- 6“Military’s cyber security bill worse than their previous draft,” Free Expression Myanmar, January 27, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/militarys-cyber-security-bill-worse-t…; “GNI Calls for Withdrawal of Draft Cybersecurity Law in Myanmar,“ Global Network Initiative, January 31, 2022, https://globalnetworkinitiative.org/cybersecurity-law-mm-2022/.
- 7Monika Bickert, “Publishing Our Internal Enforcement Guidelines and Expanding Our Appeals Process,” Facebook Newsroom, April 24, 2018, https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/04/comprehensive-community-standards/.
- 8Discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon on January 19, 2019.
- 9“Community Standards Enforcement Report,” Facebook Transparency Center, https://transparency.fb.com/data/community-standards-enforcement/
- 10“Oversight Board overturns Facebook decision: Case 2021-007-FB-UA,” Oversight Board, August 2021, https://oversightboard.com/news/342799874210662-oversight-board-overtur…; See a civil society submission to the Oversight Board on Facebook’s over-moderation here: “Oversight Board overrules Facebook deletion of Myanmar “hate speech” post,” Free Expression Myanmar, August 17, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/oversight-board-overrules-facebook-de…
- 11Andrew Nachemson, “Channelling hate and disinformation: Myanmar’s bad actors move to Telegram,” Frontier Myanmar, September 15, 2021, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/channelling-hate-and-disinformation-…
- 12At least one social media platform had employees and consultants operating from within Myanmar when the coup began.
- 13Two consultants were detained while trying to leave the country via the airport. The military reportedly suspected that the two were still Facebook employees, after they previously supported Facebook in interacting with Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/22/two-australians-detained-…
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||1.001 4.004|
Since the coup, self-censorship online has grown significantly. Many journalists, commentators, and ordinary users initially condemned the coup and the military. However, those living under military rule increasingly limit their critical speech for their own security (see B8, C3, and C7).1 Some have stopped publishing online entirely, while others have avoided offering politically sensitive content.2 Many social media users have edited their histories to remove photos of protests and other high-risk material, changed their social media profiles to hide their identities, or opened new proxy accounts under false identities, despite a ban on that practice by Facebook and other social media platforms.3
Self-censorship has also increased in response to the growth of moderation on social media platforms (see B3).4 Users have learned to avoid the words and phrases that automatically trigger platform warnings and removals.
Self-censorship was already common prior to the coup.5 Journalists, commentators, and ordinary users faced a range of pressures to agree with government narratives and majority beliefs on matters related to the military, powerful businesses, armed conflict, the Rohingya, religion, sex and gender, and other politically sensitive topics.6 For example, most independent media outlets actively self-censored when reporting on the Rohingya to avoid backlash,7 and when they did address the issue, they generally opted to refer to Rohingya people as “Muslims” or “Bengalis,” effectively denying their distinct identity.8 Women and girls self-censored on a range of topics, particularly those related to sex and gender, due to the risk of abuse and sexual harassment.9
- 1Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 2Personal monitoring of Facebook accounts since the coup, 23 March 2021.
- 3Personal communications with human rights defenders working on digital rights, Yangon, May 2018.
- 4Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 5“Myanmar’s media freedom at risk,” Free Expression Myanmar, May 2018, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/myanmars-me…; Hanna Ellis-Petersen, “Censorship and silence: south-east Asia suffers under press crackdown,” The Guardian, February 25, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/feb/25/censorship-and-silence-so….
- 6“Myanmar journalists 'harassed' for reporting on Rohingya crisis,” Al Jazeera, October 16, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/myanmar-journalists-harassed-rep….; See for example panels on gender and on freedom of expression at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, February 28-29, 2020.
- 7Julia Carrie Wong, Michael Safi, and Shaikh Azizur Rahman, “Facebook bans Rohingya group's posts as minority faces 'ethnic cleansing',” The Guardian, September 20, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/20/facebook-rohingya-mu….
- 8“Myanmar bans Radio Free Asia for using the term “Rohingyas”,” Reporters Without Borders, June 12, 2018, https://rsf.org/en/news/myanmar-bans-radio-free-asia-using-term-rohingy…. The term “Bengalis” was used in a discriminatory attempt to link the Rohingya to Bangladesh and deny their basic rights in Myanmar. Since the coup, more Myanmar users have actively spoken out about the Rohingya, in some cases apologizing for not believing past atrocity allegations in the light of the military’s recent violence against civilians protesting its seizure of power: Verena Hölzl, “Myanmar Coup Protesters Regret Silence Over Rohingya Genocide,” Vice, February 25, 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7m898/myanmar-coup-protesters-regret-s…
- 9“Daring to defy Myanmar’s Patriarchy,” Free Expression Myanmar, 2018, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/daring-to-d….
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||1.001 4.004|
The military junta has engaged in concerted efforts to control and manipulate information online, advancing false claims that it initially intervened to restore democracy after fraudulent elections and has since been trying to reestablish public order in the face of a terrorist threat. On the first day of the coup, the military seized control of all state-owned media and government communications services,1 including all radio and television channels, as well as related Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, and Facebook pages, using them to spread propaganda.2 The military then began banning sources of alternative information such as independent media outlets,3 and blocking access to their content (see B6). Several previously independent media outlets were allowed to continue operating,4 but they now avoid any criticism of the military (see B2).
The military has refined its information manipulation tactics online. After the coup, it ordered soldiers to create social media accounts, spread the junta’s talking points online, and troll sources of information that challenged official narratives. A Reuters investigation released in November 2021 identified 200 military personnel operating social media accounts; their posts often spread online within minutes, in some cases via the online groups and fan channels of celebrities and sports teams set up by specialized military units.5 Military supporters, including military family members and members of nationalist groups, are also encouraged to amplify such content.6 In an effort to further exert control over online narratives and bypass content moderation policies imposed by global social media platforms, the military announced in 2022 the creation of its own local social media platforms. One such application is OkPar, designed to be an alternative to Facebook. Another is MTube, which is similar to YouTube.7
Some social media platforms have tried to prevent the military from promoting false and misleading narratives online. Following the coup, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, VKontakte, and TikTok all to some extent banned the military or its representatives from using their services.8 For example, Facebook removed or reduced the distribution of many pages run by the military or military-owned companies in February 2021, including the military’s “True News Information Team” and state media.9 The pages and accounts of various armed groups have also been removed in recent years, as the company deemed them “dangerous organizations.” Prior to the coup, Facebook removed the accounts of military organizations that perpetrated atrocities against the Rohingya and sought to limit the reach of military proxies, banning a number of pages and accounts in 2019 and 2021 for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”10
Facebook’s moderation of promilitary networks has sometimes failed to limit the spread of their content. A June 2021 investigation by Global Witness found that Facebook’s page-recommendation algorithm had been amplifying military content that violated many of its own violence and misinformation policies.11 Internal Facebook documents leaked in October 2021 also identified the platform’s failure to limit the spread of content shared by promilitary accounts.12
Some promilitary disinformation networks have migrated to Telegram, which offers fewer restrictions. A Frontier Myanmar investigation of promilitary Telegram accounts in September 2021 found that they disseminated content disparaging armed civilian resistance and ethnic militias.13 A 2023 report by Myanmar Witness found that disinformation on Telegram is often sexualized to target politically active women (see C7).14 The platform had removed some promilitary accounts for incitement to violence as of March 2022, though many more remained.15
- 1Naw Betty Han @NawBettyHan, "Military media, MWD broadcasted this photo last night that the protestors was burning and destroying on March 30. But the photo's Watermark showed that it was taken on February 4. Does it mean that Coup Council is lying in their owed Media? #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar," Twitter, March 31, 2021, https://twitter.com/nawbettyhan/status/1377120708409520133; @MyanmarIPC, “Our first act as the #Myanmar Independent Press Council was to takedown the Ministry of Information @Myanmar_MOI Twitter account which had been publishing this disinformation and threats of violence by the State media.,” Twitter, March 21, 2021, https://twitter.com/MyanmarIPC/status/1373492061576527872.
- 2This included capturing the Facebook page of the opposition political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Peter Guest, “How misinformation fueled a coup in Myanmar,” Rest of World, February 2, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/how-misinformation-fueled-a-coup-in-myanma….
- 3“Myanmar: Military tightens media restrictions, targets journalists," The International Federation of Journalists, February 17, 2021, https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/health-and-safety….
- 4"Myanmar Journalists Leave Jobs in Face of Military Regime Restrictions on Media Freedom," The Irrawaddy, February 18, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-journalists-leave-jobs-fac….
- 5Fanny Potkin and Wa Lone, “'Information combat': Inside the fight for Myanmar's soul,” Reuters, November 2, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/information-combat-inside-fi…
- 6“Military Propaganda Facebook Pages; Join Telegram groups; Internal order to share,” Khit Thit Media, November 5, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/385165108587508/posts/1644254976011842.
- 7"Ministries and experts cooperate to create a new social media platform to replace Facebook: SAC", Eleven Media Co., August 18, 2022 https://elevenmyanmar.com/news/ministries-and-experts-cooperate-to-crea… https://www.nationthailand.com/international/ann/40019677
- 8"Ministry of Information, Myanmar," Facebook, accessed on September 19, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=189150611199427; @myanmar_moi, Twitter, accessed September 19, 2021, https://twitter.com/myanmar_moi; both were suspended on March 21, 2021. "Myanmar coup: YouTube removes channels run by army amid violence," BBC News, March 5, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-56282401. "An Update on the Situation in Myanmar," Facebook Newsroom, February 11, 2021, https://about.fb.com/news/2021/02/an-update-on-myanmar/.
- 9"An Update on the Situation in Myanmar," Facebook Newsroom, February 11, 2021, https://about.fb.com/news/2021/02/an-update-on-myanmar/
- 10Nathaniel Gleicher, “Taking Down More Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in Myanmar,” Facebook, August 21, 2019, https://about.fb.com/news/2019/08/more-cib-myanmar/; “Removing More Dangerous Organizations from Facebook in Myanmar,” Facebook Newsroom, February 5, 2019, https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2019/02/dangerous-organizations-in-myanmar/.
- 11"Algorithm of harm: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda following coup," Global Witness, June 23, 2021, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/digital-threats/algorithm-ha….
- 12“Hate speech in Myanmar continues to thrive on Facebook,” Associated Press, November 18, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/hate-speech-myanmar-continues-th…. See also "Algorithm of harm: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda following coup," Global Witness, June 23, 2021, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/digital-threats/algorithm-ha…
- 13Andrew Nachemson, “Channelling hate and disinformation: Myanmar’s bad actors move to Telegram,” Frontier Myanmar, September 15, 2021, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/channelling-hate-and-disinformation-…
- 14“Digital Battlegrounds: Politically motivated abuse of Myanmar women online,” Myanmar Witness, January 25, 2023,https://www.myanmarwitness.org/reports/digital-battlegrounds.
- 15Andrew Nachemson and Frontier Myanmar staff, “‘Watermelon suppression’: doxing campaign targets pro-democracy soldiers and police,” Frontier Myanmar, March 14, 2022, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/watermelon-suppression-doxing-campai….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||0.000 3.003|
After the 2021 coup began, the military revoked the licenses of most independent media outlets and ordered telecommunications companies to block their websites (see B1), prohibiting them from publishing and cutting them off from their audiences.1 The first revocations were announced by state media in March 2021, as five of the most critical media outlets—Myanmar Now, Khit Thit Media, Democratic Voice of Burma, Mizzima, and 7Day News—were told that they were “no longer allowed to broadcast or write or give information by using any kind of media platform or using any media technology.”2 The military also sought to detain journalists and raid outlets’ offices after staging the coup.3 No independent media outlets have been given a license since the takeover. While some outlets have continued to work underground and have expanded their audiences by publishing on social media platforms, their ability to monetize their content has been limited due to platform policies and their responses to the coup.4
Authorities unilaterally amended the Broadcasting Law in November 2021 to extend licensing requirements to online media, effectively requiring news sites that publish videos—and any internet users who post news videos on social media—to apply for a license from the Ministry of Information. Those broadcasting without a license can face imprisonment under the amended law (see C2).5
In March 2021, the military declared that offenses committed in areas under martial law and addressed by the News Media Law and the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law would be heard in military tribunals rather than in civilian courts.6 The Printing and Publishing Law created the licensing regime for publishing houses, news agencies, and websites, which must register prior to producing content, including for publishing online. The law contains a variety of vague and overly broad administrative and criminal sanctions for violations, such as running a website without a license.7
- 1Eleven Media is the only large independent media outlet still operating as of March 2022. Some large outlets, such as the Myanmar Times, closed themselves before being shut down. "Myanmar Military Strips Five Media Companies of Licenses," Voice of America, March 8, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/myanmar-military-strips-five-…; "IN NUMBERS: Arrests of Journalists and Media Staff in Myanmar," Reporting Asean, accessed on September 18, 2021, https://www.reportingasean.net/in-numbers-arrests-of-myanmar-journalist….
- 2Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Myanmar: second NLD official dies in custody as junta cracks down on media,” The Guardian, March 9, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/08/myanmar-un-chief-urges-re….
- 3AFP, “US journalist held in Myanmar charged with terrorism and sedition,” The Guardian, November 10, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/10/danny-fenster-us-journali…; Lorcan Lovett, “‘The darkest days are coming’: Myanmar’s journalists suffer at hands of junta,” The Guardian, June 7, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jun/07/the-darkest-….
- 4“Independent media’s struggle to survive in Myanmar,” July 19, 2022, Media Development Investment Fund, https://www.mdif.org/independent-medias-struggle-to-survive-in-myanmar/
- 5“Criminal media laws return, internet threatened,” Free Expression Myanmar, November 3, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/criminal-media-laws-return-internet-t….
- 6“Myanmar: Junta Tribunals Impose 65 Death Sentences,” Human Rights Watch, July 21, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/21/myanmar-junta-tribunals-impose-65-d….
- 7“Printing and Publishing Law,” Free Expression Myanmar, March 14, 2014, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Printing-an….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||1.001 4.004|
Myanmar’s online information environment is less diverse and reliable as a result of the February 2021 coup.
During the coverage period, most independent Burmese-language media outlets were not directly accessible within Myanmar due to content restrictions (see B1). Media outlets that are active in Myanmar have had to reduce their capacity in response to being banned and exiled.1 Some new outlets have emerged, many of them providing local information to small communities and staffed by former employees of shuttered or exiled media operations.2 All outlets have found fact-checking and verification to be more difficult than in the past, as sources are reportedly fearful of repercussions for sharing information (see C3 and C7), journalists cannot easily travel, and they have no access to official responses from the authorities.3 Outlets often rely on volunteers, known locally as “citizen journalists,” who are in many cases aligned with prodemocracy groups and report to multiple outlets primarily about conflict-related news.4
Diversity in Myanmar’s online sphere has also been affected over time by the in-country dominance of Facebook and its subsequent blocking.5 In 2020, 78 percent of mobile users had never used an internet browser or app store, with most accessing the internet via Facebook applications on their mobile phones.6 Global Witness research published in June 2021 found that Facebook’s page-recommendation algorithm had been amplifying military content that violated many of its own policies (see B5).7
The absence of reliable information has facilitated the spread of false and misleading online content. Particularly prevalent rumors have addressed the status of detained NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi,8 impending internet shutdowns,9 bank fraud,10 the likelihood of violent crackdowns by the military,11 deepfake technology,12 and the role of China’s government in supporting the coup.13 In 2023, a human rights defender was forced to flee when she saw her name on a warrant list circulating online and had no way to check the image’s authenticity.14
Before the coup, rumors about ethnic and religious minority groups, political leaders, and the COVID-19 pandemic were rife.15 The NLD government also tried to limit the diversity of information available to the public by overseeing and sometimes leading attempts to marginalize media outlets that were critical of official narratives.16
- 1Philip Smucker, "Myanmar’s Media Adapts to the World’s Harshest Oppression", The Diplomat, December 14, 2021, https://thediplomat.com/2021/12/myanmars-media-adapts-to-the-worlds-har… Discussions with medai freedom defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 2Jared Downing, “Journalism in Myanmar: “An Apocalypse for The Media,”” Nieman Reports, June 18, 2021, https://niemanreports.org/articles/journalism-in-myanmar-an-apocalypse-….
- 3"2021.03.11 Myanmar’s media, after the coup: Reporting under fire," Youtube, March 11, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xVdya8Qdn0.
- 4“Bearing witness: The volunteers bringing news from the front line,” Frontier Myanmar, September 29, 2022, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/bearing-witness-the-volunteers-bring….
- 5“Myanmar: UN Fact-Finding Mission releases its full account of massive violations by military in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States,” UNHCR, September 18, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2018/09/myanmar-un-fact-finding…
- 6Asian Development Bank, "Ooredoo Myanmar Limited Nationwide Telecommunications Project (Myanmar)," December 2020, https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-documents/49116/49116-0…
- 7"Algorithm of harm: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda following coup," Global Witness, June 23, 2021, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/digital-threats/algorithm-ha…
- 8“Myanmar coup: Tens of thousands protest and call for Aung San Suu Kyi's release despite internet being cut off," Sky News, February 7, 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/myanmar-coup-tens-of-thousands-protest-and-c….
- 9Free Expression Myanmar, @FreeExpressMm, "Rumour that internet is going to be totally shutdown for 20 days is not true 🚫 It is true that: ☑️Partial shutdown is ongoing + open-ended ☑️Mobile data is totally shutdown ☑️Only access to internet is fixed-line + MiFI between 6:30am-1am," March 26, 2021, https://twitter.com/FreeExpressMm/status/1375425978172895235.
- 10"‘Terrible and unacceptable’: People in Myanmar tell of their fears about a new era of military rule," The Independent, February 28, 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/myanmar-military-democrac….
- 11"Reporting from Myanmar: 'The future has never been darker'," The Guardian, March 15, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2021/mar/15/reporting-from-myanm….
- 12Myanmar Junta Accused of Using Deepfake Technology to Prove Graft Case Against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," The Irrawardy, March 25, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-accused-using-deepfa….
- 13"Rumors are flying that China is behind the coup in Myanmar. That’s almost certainly wrong," The Washington Post, May 2, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/03/02/rumors-are-flying-th….
- 14Discussion with a human rights defender.
- 15“In Myanmar, Facebook struggles with a deluge of disinformation.” The Economist, October 22, 2020, https://www.economist.com/asia/2020/10/22/in-myanmar-facebook-struggles…
- 16“BBC Burma pulls Myanmar TV deal over Rohingya 'censorship',” Channel News Asia, September 4, 2017, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/bbc-burma-pulls-myanmar-tv-de…; “US-backed broadcaster drops Myanmar channel in dispute over terminology,” Mizzima, June 13, 2018, http://www.mizzima.com/news-domestic/us-backed-broadcaster-drops-myanma…; It is not a “civil war” but rather a “war of annihilation against insurgents”, see Mratt Kyaw Thu, “Tatmadaw warns journalists against calling domestic conflicts ‘civil wars’,” Frontier, January 18, 2019, https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/tatmadaw-warns-journalists-against-calli….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||1.001 6.006|
The military continued to impede the public’s ability to associate or assemble online throughout the coverage period.1 The junta’s blunt restrictions on internet access (see A3), blocking of tools like Facebook and WhatsApp (see B1),2 use of interception systems and social media surveillance to identify and locate political and community leaders (see C5), and extrajudicial violence (see C3 and C7) were all designed to prevent popular mobilization.3 Of the four organizations that led the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum—an annual discussion venue for stakeholders in the civil society, business, and technology sectors—two had shut down, and a third stopped working on digital rights.4 Civil society–organized online events were rarely held for fear of military reprisal.5
The military has forced much of civil society to go into hiding, operate from exile, shift its focus to less politically sensitive topics, shut down, or publicly accept the legitimacy of the coup.6 The military has also sought to undermine civil society groups’ operations and funding.7 In March 2022, it announced that it was “systematically scrutinizing” civil society organizations.8 New rules adopted in October 2022 require civil society organizations to register with local authorities and regulate the purposes and activities that registered organizations are permitted to pursue. Organizations that fail to comply face fines and criminal penalties of up to five years in prison for their representatives.9
Despite these restrictions, people continued to use online tools to organize and share information whenever possible. The CDM was launched on Facebook the day after the coup started,10 and participants continued to mobilize during the coverage period.11 Political opposition to the military takeover, which was organized within days of the February 2021 coup,12 has since coalesced into the NUG, a broad-based prodemocracy resistance movement that appears to rely heavily on its online presence.13 Small-scale offline protests persisted during the coverage period, as did nationwide “silent protests” aimed at shutting down the economy.14
Users have tried a range of tactics to circumvent the military’s blocking efforts; VPNs and secure communications tools have become widespread. One secure communications app, Bridgify, was downloaded over a million times in Myanmar within two days of the coup.15 The circumvention app Psiphon was downloaded by nearly two million users during the same period.16 According to industry monitor Top10VPN, VPN usage continued to climb in the year following the coup.17
- 1“Recommendations to protect mass movements submitted to UN,” Free Expression Myanmar, June 13, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/recommendations-to-protect-mass-movem…
- 2"Internet disrupted in Myanmar amid apparent military uprising," NetBlocks, January 31, 2021, https://netblocks.org/reports/internet-disrupted-in-myanmar-amid-appare…
- 3For more information including a daily tally and specific cases see: What’s happening in Myanmar,” Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, https://coup.aappb.org
- 4Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022; see “Myanmar Digital Rights Forum,” https://www.digitalrightsmm.info/; Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Ex-UK ambassador and her husband jailed for a year in Myanmar, reports say,” The Guardian, September 2, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/02/ex-uk-ambassador-husband-…. MCRB closed its office and made all employees redundant on international human rights day, December 10, 2022: https://www.myanmar-responsiblebusiness.org/news/closure-yangon-branch…
- 5Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 6John Liu, “CSOs after the coup: Operations squeezed, funding crunched,” Frontier Myanmar, September 28, 2021, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/csos-after-the-coup-operations-squee….
- 7“Review of post-coup CSO funding submitted to UN,” Free Expression Myanmar, March 7, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/review-of-post-coup-cso-funding-submi…
- 8“SAC says it is "systematically scruitizing" work of INGOs and CSOs,” Democratic Voice of Burma, March 31, 2022, https://english.dvb.no/sac-says-it-is-systematically-scruitizing-work-o…
- 9Oliver Spencer, “Assessing potential impact of the new association law and FATF blacklisting on Myanmar media,” The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, https://www.icnl.org/wp-content/uploads/ICNL-ARL-FATF-Media-Impact-Anal…
- 10“After coup, medical workers spearhead civil disobedience campaign,” Frontier Myanmar, February 2, 2021, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/after-coup-medical-workers-spearhead…
- 11“How has Myanmar’s military stalled collapse from CDM-inflicted damage?” Teacircle, January 17, 2023: https://teacircleoxford.com/politics/how-has-myanmars-military-stalled-….
- 12A group of MPs calling themselves the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw launched on February 3, 2021. See “Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw,” https://www.crphmyanmar.org.
- 13See “Government of the Public of the Union of Myanmar,” https://www.nugmyanmar.org
- 14“Despite heavy conflict and big risks, anti-military protests persist in Sagaing” Frontier, June 12, 2023: https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/despite-heavy-conflict-and-big-risks… ; “Myanmar junta hit by western sanctions as ‘silent strikes’ mark coup anniversary,” The Guardian, February 1, 2023: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/01/myanmars-air-force-target…
- 15Fanny Potkin and Jesse Pang, “Offline message app downloaded over million times after Myanmar coup,” Reuters, February 2, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-bridgefy-idUSKBN2A2….
- 16Ole Tangen Jr, “The battle for Myanmar plays out on Twitter, TikTok and Telegram,” DW, April 20, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/the-battle-for-myanmar-plays-out-on-twitter-tikto…
- 17Simon Migliano, “VPN Demand Surges Around the World,” Top10VPN, accessed July 31, 2023, https://www.top10vpn.com/research/vpn-demand-statistics/
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||0.000 6.006|
The military coup effectively nullified the 2008 constitution along with the limited protections for free expression it offered. The military carried out the coup under the cover of a state of emergency that it claimed was necessary to address unverified claims of fraud in the November 2020 elections, arguing that the move was in line with its constitutional powers. However, both the justification and the process itself were unlawful.1 Members of the Constitutional Tribunal, the one state body that might have held the military accountable to the constitution, were all replaced by the junta on February 9, 2021.2 In April 2021, members of the parliament who escaped military-controlled areas declared that the 2008 constitution was void and replaced it with an interim charter under the aegis of the NUG. 3 Meanwhile, the military has extended its state of emergency beyond the time limits stipulated in the 2008 constitution, with fresh extensions announced in February and July 2023.4
The 2008 constitution and other laws in Myanmar largely failed to protect human rights online. The constitution, drafted by a previous military government and approved in a flawed 2008 referendum, stated that “enhancing the eternal principles of justice, liberty, and equality” was one of the country’s six objectives.5 It also provided specific—but highly limited—guarantees for citizens to “express and publish their convictions and opinions,”6 and to “freely develop literature, culture, arts, customs, and traditions,”7 provided that they were “not contrary to the laws enacted for Union [of Myanmar] security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.”8 The constitution included no provisions directly related to the internet or access to information, although Article 96 and Schedule 1 (8.m) empowered the parliament to establish laws regulating the internet.
A number of laws undermine media freedom and freedom of expression. The 2013 Telecommunications Law criminalizes legitimate forms of expression and authorizes restrictions on online content. A range of other laws further impede online expression, including the Electronic Transactions Law (see C2), the Printing and Publishing Law, and the Broadcasting Law (see B6).
The rule of law has essentially collapsed since the coup, as the military took control of the judicial system.9 The military has suspended habeas corpus and other legal rights, tried civilians in military courts, heard cases inside prisons to prevent observers from attending, arbitrarily detained thousands of people, harassed lawyers, and used torture to extract confessions.10
- 1“Statement by Myanmar civil society organisations on the unconstitutionality of new ‘laws’,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 19, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/statement-by-myanmar-civil-society-or….
- 2Melissa Crouch, “Open letter to Association of Asian Constitutional Courts on Myanmar,” Personal blog, June 4, 2021, https://melissacrouch.com/2021/06/04/open-letter-to-association-of-asia….
- 3Sebastian Strangio, “Myanmar Coup Opponents Announce ‘Unity Government’, Interim Constitution,” The Diplomat, April 1, 2021, https://thediplomat.com/2021/04/myanmar-coup-opponents-announce-unity-g…
- 4"Myanmar junta extends state of emergency, forcing delay to elections", The Guardian, July 31, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jul/31/myanmar-junta-extends-sta…
- 5Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008), Article 6(e).
- 6Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) Article 354(a).
- 7Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) Article 365.
- 8Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) Article 354. Article 365 includes a similar broad and vague limitation.
- 9Melissa Crouch, "Did the Myanmar Coup Install an Illegitimate President?”, The Diplomat March 11, 2021, https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/did-the-myanmar-coup-install-an-illegit….
- 10“Myanmar: A year after military takeover, no rule of law or judicial independence,” ICJ, February 10, 2022, https://www.icj.org/myanmar-a-year-after-military-takeover-no-rule-of-l…
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||0.000 4.004|
The military has expanded legal penalties for online activities since the coup.
In November 2021, the military amended the Broadcasting Law to extend criminal penalties to media outlets that publish online without a license, prescribing up to five years in prison for the responsible individuals (see B6).
In January 2022, the military circulated a revised draft of its proposed Cyber Security Law. The draft would undermine due process, enable further blocking, and criminalize the use of VPNs. It would also give the military absolute control over the internet in Myanmar and extend military jurisdiction to foreign companies.1 Following a widespread outcry, the military had quietly dropped an earlier version of the proposal in February 2021.2 The January 2022 version has been strongly criticized by human rights organizations like Free Expression Myanmar and multistakeholder coalitions like the Global Network Initiative.3 The draft’s status was unclear at the end of the coverage period.
The military imposed an amendment to the Electronic Transactions Law in February 2021, incorporating many of the problematic provisions from the initial draft of the Cyber Security Law. These included new rules that could be used to criminalize the publication of “false information” or information that could damage Myanmar’s foreign relations.4 The 2004 Electronic Transactions Law also criminalized an ill-defined range of online activity. For instance, it barred “any act detrimental to” state security, law and order, community peace and tranquility, national solidarity, the national economy, or the national culture—including “receiving or sending” information with those effects. The law was routinely used to criminalize internet activism during the previous period of military rule.5
In February 2021, the military ordered an amendment to the penal code to strengthen punishments for treason and sedition,6 and added an extremely vague offense under a new provision, Article 505A, which criminalized causing fear, spreading false news, or disrupting officials; Article 505A prescribes penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.7 The military used Article 505A thousands of times during the coverage period to punish dissent, including online (see C3).8 The amended penal code contained other provisions that have been used to a lesser extent, including a revised version of the existing Article 505(a), which criminalizes encouraging officials to mutiny, and Article 505(b), which bans causing fear or alarm in public.9
In March 2021, the military imposed martial law in many areas. Martial law prescribes capital punishment for crimes including treason, inciting disaffection toward the government or military, and disrupting the government or military.10 The move also brought the enforcement of the News Media Law, the Printing and Publishing Law, the Electronic Transactions Law, and Articles 505 and 505A under the jurisdiction of military courts in areas under martial law. The military continued to increase the number of areas under martial law during the coverage period.11
The Telecommunications Law was enacted by a military-backed civilian government in 2013. It was intended principally to deregulate the market, but it also included new criminal provisions for legitimate digital activities; Article 66(d) addresses defamation, while Article 68 penalizes disinformation.12 The law was amended in 2017 after significant criticism of the misuse of Article 66(d) to punish dissent, but the changes had no discernible impact.13 In December 2020, a civil society coalition launched a new push to amend Article 66(d) and the country’s five other criminal defamation provisions, putting forward four reform options.14
The Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, which was enacted in 2017 and widely condemned by civil society for being debated and passed without proper consultation, prescribes prison terms of up to three years for defamation.15 The defamation provisions were amended in 2020 but were still used to prosecute individuals for online speech (see C3).16 In February 2021, the military suspended parts of the law, including its limited protections against surveillance and the interception of private messages.17
The Trademark Law, adopted in 2019, penalizes trademark infringement and counterfeiting with up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of approximately 5 million kyat ($2,400).18 It was adopted alongside the Patent Law and the Industrial Design Law, which also include criminal sanctions for violations.19 Later in 2019, lawmakers adopted a copyright measure that includes prison terms of up to three years for commercial copying without consent.20 Each law applies to online content and could be enforced against internet users.
After the coup, the military began working on a revised hate-speech law that could include punishment for “political” hate speech, which would contradict international human rights standards on the topic.21 The NLD government had developed a series of draft hate-speech laws in 2017 that were criticized by civil society for being excessively punitive and failing to address Myanmar’s significant problem of intolerance.22 The NLD government in 2020 issued a Directive on the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred and Violence, ordering officials to address the issue of hate speech.23 The directive came in advance of a reporting deadline set by the International Court of Justice, which was investigating genocide against the Rohingya.
- 1“Six risks from Myanmar’s draft Cyber Security Law,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 14, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/six-risks-from-myanmars-draft-cyber-s…; “GNI Calls for Withdrawal of Draft Cybersecurity Law in Myanmar,“ Global Network Initiative, January 31, 2022, https://globalnetworkinitiative.org/cybersecurity-law-mm-2022/.
- 2“Six risks from Myanmar’s draft Cyber Security Law,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 14, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/six-risks-from-myanmars-draft-cyber-s…; “Myanmar’s new Electronic Transactions Law Amendment,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 18, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/myanmars-new-electronic-transactions-….
- 3“GNI Calls for Withdrawal of Draft Cybersecurity Law in Myanmar,“ Global Network Initiative, January 31, 2022, https://globalnetworkinitiative.org/cybersecurity-law-mm-2022/.
- 4“Myanmar’s new Electronic Transactions Law Amendment,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 18, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/myanmars-new-electronic-transactions-….
- 5“Myanmar’s new Electronic Transactions Law Amendment,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 18, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/myanmars-new-electronic-transactions-….
- 6“Myanmar: Penal Code amendments portend long-term repression,” Article 19, February 15, 2021, https://www.article19.org/resources/myanmar-penal-code-amendments-porte…
- 7”Myanmar Ruling Council Amends Treason, Sedition Laws to Protect Coup Makers”, The Irrawaddy, February 16, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-ruling-council-amends-trea….
- 8Free Expression Myanmar "505A Act of Revenge", January 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/505a-act-o…
- 9Linda Lakhdhir, “Dashed Hopes: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch, January 31, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/01/31/dashed-hopes/criminalization-peac….
- 10“Myanmar: Junta Tribunals Impose 65 Death Sentences,” Human Rights Watch, July 21, 2021, .https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/21/myanmar-junta-tribunals-impose-65-d…
- 11“Myanmar military expands martial law in strongholds of resistance,” Al Jazeera, February 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/4/myanmar-military-expands-martia…
- 12Other problematic provisions in the Telecommunications Law (2013) include Articles 4, 5-8, 18, 40, 68, and 75-77, see “Telecommunications Law,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/telecommuni….
- 13“66(d): no real change,” Free Expression Myanmar, December 2017, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/66d-no-real….
- 14“As NLD prepares for second term, activists urge defamation reform,” Frontier Myanmar, December 14, 2020, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/as-nld-prepares-for-second-term-acti…
- 15Tin Htet Paing, “Critics Skeptical of New Privacy Legislation,” The Irrawaddy, March 15, 2017, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/critics-skeptical-of-new-privacy-l….
- 16“Privacy Amendment welcome but insufficient to address misuse of defamation — နိုင်ငံသားများ၏ ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာလွတ်လပ်မှုနှင့် ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာလုံခြုံမှုကို ကာကွယ်ပေးရေး ဥပဒေပြင်ဆင်ချက်သည် ကြိုဆိုဖွယ်ရာ ဖြစ်သော်လည်း အသရေဖျက်မှုနှင့်ပတ်သက်၍ လွဲမှားနေသောပြဿနာများကို ဖြေရှင်းရန် လုံလောက်ပြည့်စုံမှုမရှိပေ,” Free Expression Myanmar, September 7, 2020, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/privacy-amendment-welcome-but-insuffi…
- 17Myanmar Military Junta Suspends Laws Protecting Citizens’ Privacy to Crack Down on Opposition,” The Irrawaddy, February 14, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-military-junta-suspends-la….
- 18“Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law No. 3/2019 - Trademark Law,” Myanmar Law Library, 2019, https://perma.cc/58F4-3NWU; “Myanmar Passes Long-Awaited Trademark Law,” Tilleke & Gibbins, February 1, 2019, https://www.tilleke.com/resources/myanmar-passes-long-awaited-trademark….
- 19Yuwadee Thean-ngarm, Sher Hann Chua and Nwe Oo, “Myanmar Passes Patent Law,” Lexology, March 14, 2019, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=37278f03-6667-47c9-a531-….
- 20Sher Hann Chua and Khin Myo Myo Aye, “Myanmar Enacts Copyright Law,” Lexology, May 24, 2019, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=89cfb0ea-acf2-4c3a-aea0-….
- 21““Hate speech” committee threatens more censorship,” Free Expression Myanmar, July 16, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/hate-speech-committee-threatens-more-…
- 22“Anti-Hate Speech draft law submitted to Myanmar parliament,” Coconuts Yangon, September 28, 2017, https://coconuts.co/yangon/news/anti-hate-speech-draft-law-submitted-pa….
- 23“Hate speech Directive threatens free expression in election countdown,” Free Expression Myanmar, April 22, 2020, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/hate-speech-directive-threatens-free-e….
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||0.000 6.006|
Internet users are frequently punished for their online speech in Myanmar’s restrictive legal environment. Military-controlled authorities and courts continued to engage in arbitrary and disproportionate arrests, including of internet users, and imposed extreme sentences during the coverage period. As of May 31, 2023, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that 22,842 civilians and activists had been arrested since the coup, and that 4,320 had been released.1
Free Expression Myanmar reported that nearly 4,000 people were identifiably arrested, detained, charged, or imprisoned under penal code Articles 505 and 505A in the year after the coup; of those, 1,269 people remained in pretrial detention and 143 had received prison terms as of February 2022. A further 7,200 people were held on unknown charges and may have been prosecuted under Articles 505 and 505A.2 Many of these cases were likely related to the individuals’ online activities, though specific numbers have been difficult to establish due to the collapse in due process, increased court secrecy, and the removal of evidentiary requirements in trials.
The military-controlled government is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists.3 At least 175 journalists, all of whom were affiliated with media outlets that published online, have been detained since the coup, and at least 62 reportedly remained in prison as of December 2022.4 The majority of imprisoned journalists were detained, charged, or sentenced under Article 505A.5 Sai Zaw Thaike, a photojournalist for the news site Myanmar Now, was detained in May 2023 for covering the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha; he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in September.6 Other provisions have also been used against journalists; for example, Hmu Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun was sentenced to a total of 13 years in prison, including a 10-year sentence under the Counterterrorism Law handed down in May 2023, for her coverage of a 2021 flash-mob protest that had been organized online.7 Many journalists, like Ma Thuzar, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for reporting on protests against the coup.8 Journalists’ relatives have been targeted by the military as well. For example, when journalist Htet Htet Aung, who reported for the online outlet Thingangyun Post, was detained, her seven-year-old daughter was also held and questioned for two days before being released.9
Some 25 percent of those imprisoned under Articles 505 and 505A in the year after the coup were health workers, 13 percent were educators, and 9 percent worked in creative fields, including music.10 Thousands of students, civil society activists, and politicians have also been detained since then, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.11 For example, a young woman from Bago Region was arrested in January 2023 for urging people online to boycott the military-controlled education system.12 Two women were arrested in Sagaing Region in March 2023 for sharing media outlets’ Facebook posts about the civil conflict.13 At least 60 prominent celebrities were on warrant lists as of April 2021,14 and many had not engaged in political commentary prior to the February 2021 coup.15 For example, social media influencer Aung Chan Aye was detained in January 2023 upon his return from Thailand due to his earlier participation in anticoup activities.16 In September 2022, a woman celebrity who had participated in protests against the coup was sentenced to six years in prison under the Electronic Transactions Law for “harming culture” by posting nude images on the adult subscription site OnlyFans.17
Hundreds of people who have avoided being brought into custody have faced other penalties.18 For example, the military has confiscated the property of absent dissidents, such as the home of Thalun Zaung Htet, editor of online outlet Khit Thit Media, which was seized in February 2022.19 Individuals who do not receive a custodial sentence after arrest are still forced to delete content.20
- 1“Daily Briefing in Relation to the Military Coup,” Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, May 31, 2023: https://aappb.org/?p=25045.
- 2“505A Act of Revenge: Review of Myanmar Coup Speech ‘Crimes,’” Free Expression Myanmar, January 31, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/505a-act-o…
- 3Shawn W. Crispin, “Bitter reversal: Myanmar military coup wipes out press freedom gains,” Committee to Protect Journalists, July 28, 2021, https://cpj.org/reports/2021/07/bitter-reversal-myanmar-journalists-jai…; Lena Dal Sento, “Two years after military coup, international community supports Myanmar’s independent media,”IPI, February 9, 2023, https://ipi.media/two-years-after-military-coup-international-community…
- 4Moe Tain, “Two Years After the Coup: Myanmar Journalists Go Underground, But Soldier On,” February 2, 2023, https://www.reportingasean.net/two-years-after-the-coup-myanmar-journal….
- 5“IN NUMBERS: Arrests of Journalists and Media Staff in Myanmar,” Reporting Asean, accessed September 2, 2022, https://www.reportingasean.net/in-numbers-arrests-of-myanmar-journalist…
- 6CPJ, “Myanmar Now photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike sentenced to 20 years in prison on multiple charges”, September 6, 2023, https://cpj.org/2023/09/myanmar-now-photojournalist-sai-zaw-thaike-sent…
- 7“Myanmar reporter gets additional ten-year sentence for covering protest,” RSF, May 20, 2023: https://rsf.org/en/myanmar-reporter-gets-additional-ten-year-sentence-c…
- 8“Myanmar reporter arrested in Yangon after four months in hiding,” Reporters Without Borders, September 7, 2021, https://rsf.org/en/news/myanmar-reporter-arrested-yangon-after-four-mon…
- 9Nway Nway Eain, “ Junta forces in Yangon detain and interrogate journalist’s 7-year-old daughter,” Myanmar Now, November 24, 2021, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/junta-forces-in-yangon-detain-and-i…
- 10“505A Act of Revenge: Review of Myanmar Coup Speech ‘Crimes,’” Free Expression Myanmar, January 31, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/505a-act-o…
- 11“What’s happening in Myanmar,” Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, https://coup.aappb.org
- 12“A Facebook posting has landed a young and businesswoman in jail in Myanmar,” Chindwin News Agency, January 19, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/101557665614894/posts/215626867541306
- 13Chindwin News Agency, @Chindwin News Agency, ”Myanmar's junta continues its intense crackdown on social media use”, March 12, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/101557665614894/posts/230375869399739
- 14“Myanmar targets celebrities, hands charges for promoting protests,” Daily Sabah, April 5, 2021, https://www.dailysabah.com/world/asia-pacific/myanmar-targets-celebriti…; Peter Guest, “’They want us to disappear,’” Rest of World, May 11, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/they-want-us-to-disappear/.
- 15“How Does A Travel Blogger Become A Wanted Person By Myanmar Military ?,” Stories for Humanity MM, April 16, 2021, https://storiesforhumanitymm.medium.com/how-does-a-travel-blogger-becom…
- 16“Facebook Cele Aung Chan Aye was arrested after his return to the village,” Mekong News, January 22, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/363715110955099/posts/1166595937333675
- 18“Nearly 1,000 NLD-affiliated properties seized by Myanmar’s junta since coup,” RFA, May 23, 2023: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/seizures-05232023163954.html
- 19“Myanmar Junta Seizes Anti-Regime Celebrity and Journalist Homes,” the Irrawaddy, February 16, 2022, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-seizes-anti-regime-c…
- 20Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||1.001 4.004|
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the military enforced mandatory SIM-card registration and threatened people who used circumvention tools, undermining access to secure and anonymous communications.
Users’ ability to communicate anonymously has been further restricted by the military since the coup. In March 2021, daily directives from the junta banned the use of VPNs, though some orders barring VPN use had already emerged the month before.1 The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) confirmed that multiple circumvention-tool websites were blocked at least once alongside their IP addresses in February 2021.2 Although the blocking limited some people’s ability to use circumvention tools, internet users continued to employ them. The military has also conducted random street searches of peoples’ devices in order to inspire fear of surveillance.3
The military’s proposed Cyber Security Law would, if adopted, criminalize possession of VPN software and the use of pseudonyms on Facebook, with a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment in both cases (see C2).4 Businesses in Myanmar condemned the proposal as unworkable, as most applications and systems use VPNs for security purposes.5 Despite the law not being formally adopted, military officers searching people’s devices in public places reportedly threatened to arrest those with VPNs installed and extorted bribes from the affected individuals.6
Anonymity is limited by mandatory SIM-card registration requirements. After the coup, the military required all subscribers to reregister their SIM cards. In September 2022, authorities warned that SIM cards would be permanently blocked if they had not been reregistered with correct data by January 2023.7 The military has also called for mandatory registration of the IMEI numbers of all devices, with those that are not registered risking exclusion from telecommunications services; the demand was ostensibly linked to the collection of registration fees (see A2), though it was not yet enforced during the coverage period.8
It is unclear whether the military has continued to advance plans for biometric registration that were initiated prior to the coup. In 2019, the NLD government had issued a tender for a biometric SIM-card registration system,9 which would include fingerprints and facial-recognition information.10
There are no clear legal restrictions on encrypted communications, though vague provisions in the Telecommunications Law and the Electronic Transactions Law could be interpreted to restrict the technology.
- 1“Junta issues daily directives to further block internet access, telecoms providers say,” Myanmar Now, March 20, 2021, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/junta-issues-daily-directives-to-fu…; “Myanmar Junta Blocks Facebook, VPNs as The UN Security Council Voices ‘Deep Concern’,” Radio Free Asia, February 2, 2021, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/facebook-blocked-0204202114010….
- 2OONI, “Myanmar: Data on internet blocks and internet outages following military coup,” https://ooni.org/post/2021-myanmar-internet-blocks-and-outages/
- 3"Myanmar citizens oppose military takeover on social media,” Nikkei Asia, February 4, 2022, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Crisis/Myanmar-citizens-oppos…
- 4“Myanmar junta using draft law to conduct searches for VPNs,” RFA, January 16, 2022, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/bill-01262022183617.html; “Military’s cyber security bill worse than their previous draft,” Free Expression Myanmar, January 27, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/militarys-cyber-security-bill-worse-t…
- 5Asia Internet Coalition et al, “Joint Statement on the "Cyber Security Law" Draft, January 2022,” January 28, 2022, https://eurocham-myanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Joint-Statement…
- 6Discussions with digital rights defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 7https://elevenmyanmar.com/news/dept-of-telecommunications-issue-a-state…; “Non re-registered SIM cards will be closed in 30 days,” Narinjara, March 14, 2023, https://burmese.narinjara.com/local-news/detail/640fe5f8be9d1e25d3afa9f1
- 8Khit Thit Media, “ပြည်သူများ၏ မိုဘိုင်းလ်ဖုန်းဟန်းဆက်များ၏ IMEI မှတ်ပုံတင်ရန်နှင့် အခွန်တောင်းခံရန်၊ လုံခြုံရေးအရ ထိန်းချုပ်ရန် စစ်ကောင်စီက ဖုန်းအော်ပရေတာများအားလုံးကို အစည်းအဝေးခေါ်ယူ,” June 7, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/khitthitnews/photos/a.386800725090613/15154089…
- 9Thompson Chau, “Myanmar wants mobile user biometrics,” Myanmar Times, December 5, 2019, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/myanmar-wants-mobile-user-biometrics.html; “Myanmar: Dangerous Plans for Biometric SIM Card Registration Must be Scrapped,” Privacy International, December 9, 2019, https://privacyinternational.org/news-analysis/3303/myanmar-dangerous-p….
- 10Chris Burt, “Myanmar closes delayed biometrics tender amid funding confusion, data protection laws still absent,” Biometric Update, June 11, 2020, https://www.biometricupdate.com/202006/myanmar-closes-delayed-biometric…
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||1.001 6.006|
The military’s online surveillance and interception efforts have grown since the coup, dovetailing with its comprehensive offline capacity to intrude on citizens’ privacy. Immediately after the coup began, the military unlawfully suspended parts of the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, including modest safeguards against warrantless surveillance and interception of private messages.1
During the coverage period, the military introduced new bylaws to the 2014 Counterterrorism Law, including a new chapter that grants the authorities sweeping powers to intercept, block, or restrict mobile and electronic communications without court oversight or any other form of due process.2
The draft Cyber Security Law would, if adopted, strip away almost all privacy protections and require all data to be stored on devices and servers designated by and accessible to the military, without any form of oversight (see C2).3 Although the draft had not yet been enacted during the coverage period, the military unilaterally amended the Electronic Transactions Law in February 2021 by adding some of the same problematic provisions included in an earlier draft of the Cyber Security Law. For instance, the revised Electronic Transactions Law grants the authorities broad powers to inspect any device on vague bases such as “misuse.”4
According to a May 2021 Reuters report, former military officials pressured service providers in late 2020 to install interception technology that would enable the military to view texts and emails, listen to phone calls, and locate users without assistance or approval.5 A January 2023 report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz indicated that the technology, sold by Israeli company Cognyte, had been due to go live in June 2021. The technology’s operational status remained unclear during the coverage period.6 The military’s Public Relations and Information Production Unit, known as the Ka Ka Com, reportedly had a network of teams comprising hundreds of soldiers nationwide that were responsible for identifying suspects online and infiltrating their networks;7 military surveillance networks also utilized information from the devices of detainees,8 and from security cameras equipped with facial-recognition technology.9 The communications of soldiers themselves are also under surveillance by the military leadership to identify possible defectors.10
Soldiers conduct physical surveillance of devices through random spot-checks and at fixed checkpoints, looking for censorship circumvention tools or politically sensitive content in photo albums, messages, and social media posts.11 Forensic search technology was reportedly active in Myanmar prior to the coup: police have used products from the Israeli company Cellebrite since 2016.12 The malware product FinSpy was reportedly in operation in Myanmar as of 2019.13
Before the coup, the NLD government had invested in acquiring interception capacity, including by ordering service providers to install the technology that the military later activated after the coup.14 The NLD government spent $4.8 million on such technology,15 allocated to the Social Media Monitoring Team (SMMT),16 a body established under the MoTC.17 The NLD government argued that the SMMT was necessary to counter individuals who were causing “instability” online, for example through hate speech and defamation.18 Little was known about the SMMT’s operations or whether there was any independent oversight,19 but civil society activists assume that the unit is now being used by the military.20 The SMMT spent its budget on tools from vendors based in Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Israel, among others.21 Purchases included MacQuisition forensic software, which can extract data from Apple computers; tools that can extract deleted content from mobile devices; and additional technology for determining the home addresses of online critics.
- 1Article 357 includes protection for private communications. “Myanmar Military Junta Suspends Laws Protecting Citizens’ Privacy to Crack Down on Opposition,” The Irrawaddy, February 14, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-military-junta-suspends-la….
- 2“Counter Terrorism Law Regulations”, March 1 2023, https://www.mlis.gov.mm/lsScPop.do?lawordSn=18976 ; “Amendment grants Myanmar junta sweeping new powers under Anti-Terrorism Law,” RFA, March 15, 2023: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/amendment-03152023170207.html
- 3“Six risks from Myanmar’s draft Cyber Security Law,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 14, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/six-risks-from-myanmars-draft-cyber-s…
- 4“Myanmar’s new Electronic Transactions Law Amendment,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 18, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/myanmars-new-electronic-transactions-….
- 5Fanny Potkin and Poppy Mcpherson, “How Myanmar’s military moved in on the telecoms sector to spy on citizens,” Reuters, May 18, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/how-myanmars-military-moved-…
- 6Oded Yaron, “Myanmar Acquired Spyware From Israeli Cyber-intelligence Firm Cognyte, New Docs Reveal,” Haaretz, January 15, 2023, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/security-aviation/2023-01-15/ty-art…
- 7Fanny Potkin and Wa Lone, “'Information combat': Inside the fight for Myanmar's soul,” Reuters, November 2, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/information-combat-inside-fi…
- 8“Authorities in Yangon posing as activists online arrest dozens,” RFA, March 2, 2022, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/arrests-03022022185117.html.
- 9Hannah Beech, “Myanmar’s Military Deploys Digital Arsenal of Repression in Crackdown,” The New York Times, March 1, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/01/world/asia/myanmar-coup-military-sur…; “Myanmar Security Forces Using Western Surveillance Tech Against Civilians, OCCRP, June 14, 2021, https://www.occrp.org/en/blog/14621-myanmar-security-forces-using-weste….
- 10Nora Aung, “Myanmar Regime Using Mytel SIM Cards to Track its own Soldiers,” Irrawaddy, June 16, 2022, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-regime-using-mytel-sim-car…
- 11“Myanmar junta using draft law to conduct searches for VPNs,” RFA, January 26, 2022, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/bill-01262022183617.html
- 12Personal communications with a range of interviewees that have been arrested for protesting or for other forms of activism online, July 2017 to March 2018.
- 13“The spyware used by Arab dictators has now shown up in Myanmar,” MIT Technology Review, July 10, 2019, https://www.technologyreview.com/f/613939/spyware-dealers-spotted-in-my….
- 14Fanny Potkin and Poppy Mcpherson, “How Myanmar’s military moved in on the telecoms sector to spy on citizens,” Reuters, May 18, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/how-myanmars-military-moved-…
- 15Nyein Zaw Lin, “Social media team will not spy on netizens, official says,” Myanmar Times, May 23, 2018, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/social-media-team-will-not-spy-netizens-of….
- 16Nay Phyo Win, “Government allots over 6 billion kyats to form social media watchdog,” Democratic Voice of Burman (DVB), March 19, 2018, http://images.dvb.no/news/government-allots-6-billion-kyats-form-social….
- 17Moe Moe, “New Body to Track Online Instigators Who Harm Govt, Sovereignty,” The Irrawaddy, May 23, 2018, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/new-body-track-online-instigators-….
- 18Moe Moe, “Parliament Approves Funds for Internet Oversight Body,” The Irrawaddy, March 21, 2018, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/parliament-approves-funds-internet-overs….
- 19Civil society attempts to engage with the SMMT in December 2018 were rebuffed by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, staff at which initially stated that they were not aware of the department and later failed to reply. Discussions with digital activists in Yangon, December 2018.
- 20Discussions with digital rights defenders, Yangon, 22 May 2021.
- 21“Justice For Myanmar publishes details of Myanmar’s tools of digital surveillance and repression,” Justice for Myanmar, March 2, 2021, https://www.justiceformyanmar.org/press-releases/justice-for-myanmar-pu…; Hannah Beech, “Myanmar’s Military Deploys Digital Arsenal of Repression in Crackdown,” The New York Times, March 1, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/01/world/asia/myanmar-coup-military-sur….
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||0.000 6.006|
Service providers are obliged to hand data over to the state without sufficient oversight or safeguards.
Myanmar lacks a robust data protection law, despite years of calls from a range of stakeholders in the private sector and civil society.1 The military imposed amendments to the Electronic Transactions Law in February 2021, adding a new chapter on personal data protection that falls far short of international standards. The amended law does assign some duties for data controllers, but those duties are ill-defined, and amended bylaws were not published.2 The amendments notably oblige data controllers to submit information to state authorities without adequate protections for user privacy.
The Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, passed in 2017 and partially suspended since the coup,3 prohibits the interception of personal communications without a warrant, but it contains a vague exception allowing surveillance if permission is granted by the president or a government body. The law does not outline clear procedures governing how data can be collected, stored, or destroyed, nor does it provide for judicial review. The law’s definition of privacy is inadequate and inconsistent with international human rights standards.4
The Telecommunications Law grants the government the power to direct unspecified persons “to secure any information or communication which may harm security, rule of law, or peace of the state.”5 The Telecommunications Law also authorizes the government to inspect the premises of telecommunications firms and to require them to hand over documents—for the ill-defined purposes of defending the “security of the state” or “the benefit of the people”—without safeguards for individuals’ privacy and other human rights.6 A 2018 amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law included a new provision requiring telecommunications firms to disclose user information without due process.7
The draft Cyber Security Law proposed in January 2022 would require platforms and service providers with over 100,000 users in Myanmar to store data on servers designated by and fully accessible to the military, functionally amounting to data localization. The bill would also impose broad retention requirements for user data.8
There is little room for service providers to push back against the military’s instructions, and the military’s direct or indirect control of the country’s providers facilitates even more seamless access to user data. Between February 2021 and February 2022, the military-controlled MoTC handed Telenor more than 200 data-request orders under the Telecommunications Law,9 compared with 188 requests in 2019 and about 70 in 2018.10 Telenor reportedly complied with all of the requests submitted after the coup; each required call records and call locations spanning months, and in total they covered thousands of users.11 The largest state-owned service provider, MPT, has never publicized the number of requests for data it receives from authorities. Mytel stated that it received over 100 requests in 2019 but has not published numbers since then.12
In at least one instance, providers did successfully resist a military order for information. In March 2022, a regional military official ordered service providers to disclose subscriber lists in order to identify who still had internet access; the companies reportedly appealed successfully to the military on the grounds that the move would violate their license requirements.13
The military has increased regulatory requirements for digital payment operators in an effort to track down donors to the prodemocracy opposition movement.14 Operators are required to verify their customers’ identities and transaction records, and to submit such records to the authorities.15 Penalties for opposition supporters are extremely punitive, and several young women have received 10-year prison terms, in each case for transferring the local equivalent of less than $10 to an opposition group.16
- 1“Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018, https://www.telenor.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Telenor-Realising-Di…; “Chapter 4.3 Privacy,” SWIA, Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, [n.d.], http://www.myanmar-responsiblebusiness.org/pdf/SWIA/ICT/Chapter-04.03-P….
- 2“Myanmar’s new Electronic Transactions Law Amendment,” Free Expression Myanmar, February 18, 2021, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/myanmars-new-electronic-transactions-…
- 3“Myanmar Military Junta Suspends Laws Protecting Citizens’ Privacy to Crack Down on Opposition,” The Irrawaddy, February 14, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-military-junta-suspends-la….
- 4“Lack of Consultation on the Citizens Privacy and Security Law is a Missed Opportunity,” Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, March 13, 2017, http://www.myanmar-responsiblebusiness.org/news/lack-of-consultation-ci…; Tin Htet Paing, “Critics Skeptical of New Privacy Legislation,” The Irrawaddy, March 15, 2017, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/critics-skeptical-of-new-privacy-l….
- 5“Telecommunications Law,” Law. No. 31/2013, Article 75, Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/telecommuni….
- 6“Telecommunications Law – Law. No. 31/2013,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/telecommuni….
- 7Drug Policy Advocacy Group, “Guiding Drug Law Reform in Myanmar,” Transnational Institute (TNI), November 29, 2017, https://www.tni.org/en/publication/guiding-drug-law-reform-in-myanmar.
- 8“Military’s cyber security bill worse than their previous draft,” Free Expression Myanmar, January 27, 2022, https://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/militarys-cyber-security-bill-worse-t…; “GNI Calls for Withdrawal of Draft Cybersecurity Law in Myanmar,“ Global Network Initiative, January 31, 2022, https://globalnetworkinitiative.org/cybersecurity-law-mm-2022/.
- 9Aung Naing, “Telenor has shared sensitive customer data with military since the coup: industry sources,” Myanmar Now, February 7, 2022, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/telenor-has-shared-sensitive-custom…
- 10Telenor was one of the only telecommunications operators in Myanmar that appeared to proactively publish information on government requests, in its annual Sustainable Business Briefings, see “Telenor Myanmar 6th Annual Sustainable Business Briefing 2019,” Telenor, 2019, https://www.telenor.com.mm/en/about/sustainability; “Authority Requests Disclosure Report,” Telenor, 2018, https://www.telenor.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Telenor-Authority-re…; Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/telcos-say-data-helps-police-solve-cases-m….
- 11Aung Naing, “Telenor has shared sensitive customer data with military since the coup: industry sources,” Myanmar Now, February 7, 2022, https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/telenor-has-shared-sensitive-custom…
- 12Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/telcos-say-data-helps-police-solve-cases-m….
- 13The regional military administration of Bago. The order has circulated among digital rights activists on 30 March, but has not yet been published. Telecommunications companies reportedly did not implement the order.
- 14“Myanmar embraces mobile payments under military rule,” Nikkei Asia, January 19, 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Crisis/Myanmar-embraces-mobil… “KBZ users struggle under junta surveillance,” Frontier, April 28, 2023: https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/kbz-users-struggle-under-junta-surve… ; https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-restricts-mobile-mon…
- 15“Myanmar embraces mobile payments under military rule,” Nikkei Asia, January 19, 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Crisis/Myanmar-embraces-mobil…
- 16Ibid; https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/teen-sentenced-to-10-years-in-myanmar-p….
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||0.000 5.005|
The military and its proxies continued to threaten, extort, physically assault, forcibly disappear, torture, and kill online and offline opponents with complete impunity during the coverage period. Many people in Myanmar face extralegal intimidation and violence on a daily basis amid ubiquitous military propaganda, constant surveillance, and physical searches, including of devices.1
The military has used threats and violence against people who supported online resistance or participated in protests, the CDM, and political opposition groups, especially the NUG itself (see B8).2 The unlawful imposition of martial law (see C1) and the threat of capital punishment had an intimidating effect among protesters, strikers, political activists, journalists, and human rights defenders.3 By March 2023, at least 100 people, including two children, had received death sentences from military courts, and at least four had been executed.4 In July 2022, the military executed Phyo Zeya Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw, marking the country’s first use of the death penalty in decades.
More than 3,500 people are confirmed to have been killed in military crackdowns between February 2021 and the end of the coverage period, and some were targeted in relation to their online activities.5 They included at least four journalists working for or previously employed by online media outlets.6 In July 2022, photographer Aye Kyaw, whose photos of anticoup protests were published on social media and in local outlets, died while in military custody; his body showed signs of torture.7
At least 20 civil society workers and activists, and over 120 students, were also among those killed since the coup.8 In March 2023, for example, Thit Sann Oo reportedly died in detention, having been arrested in September 2022 for his social media posts criticizing the military.9 In March 2021, activist and teacher Zaw Myat Lynn was tortured to death after being detained for sharing videos online that showed soldiers attacking demonstrators.10
Hundreds of other people, including children, have been killed in military custody since February 2021,11 most of them due to torture.12 Torture in general remains rampant, sometimes taking the form of sexual violence.13 Those who have suffered severe torture include a cofounder of the online outlet Kamayut Media, Han Thar Nyein, who was subsequently sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in March 2022.14
An unknown number of protesters, human rights defenders, activists, and others who engaged in prohibited activity online remained in detention during the coverage period. The military also collected the social media profiles of all individual soldiers and leveled threats against them for any banned online activity,15 including their VPN-enabled use of Facebook.16 “Watermelons,” or individuals who outwardly support the military but actually prefer the prodemocracy movement, came under attack during the coverage period. Promilitary users with large followings called for information on “watermelons” and doxed those they accused; such users have also offered bounties for their targets’ deaths.17
Soldiers, nationalists, and other military proxies, such as members of the “Blood Comrades” group, also tracked down social media users who were opposed to the military,18 and issued threats,19 particularly on Telegram.20 People suspected of opposition activity online after being released from custody were warned that their profiles were under surveillance and that they could be returned to detention.21 Activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and other dissidents have been regularly doxed since the coup, usually over Telegram, TikTok, and Facebook.22 While men were typically smeared by military proxies as “terrorists,” women faced various forms of sexual intimidation, such as nonconsensual sharing of sexually explicit images—including fabricated images—and calls for offline punishment.23
Human rights defenders had faced intimidation and violence prior to the coup. The scale and volume of threats against such activists, all of whom used the internet as their principal tool for advocacy, varied depending on the issue they focused on in their work. Pro-Rohingya and peace activists reported high levels of intimidation via direct and indirect messages and comments online,24 exacerbated by the proliferation of anti-Rohingya content on Facebook (see B5).25 Allegations of torture were also made against police, prison guards, and border guards by student activists,26 monks,27 and others.28 Women reported regular gender-based intimidation and threats of violence online.29 Common harassment tactics included cyberstalking, phishing, doxing, hacking, and attempts to cast doubt on women’s credibility, integrity, and character. As in the period after the coup, many were intimidated through fabricated sexual or intimate images, which were sometimes used in extortion attempts.
- 1“Myanmar junta using draft law to conduct searches for VPNs,” RFA, January 26, 2022, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/bill-01262022183617.html
- 2“Myanmar: Over 100 killed in deadliest day since military coup,” DW, March 27, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/myanmar-over-100-killed-in-deadliest-day-since-mi….
- 3“Myanmar: Junta Tribunals Impose 65 Death Sentences,” Human Rights Watch, July 21, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/21/myanmar-junta-tribunals-impose-65-d…
- 4Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, https://aappb.org/.
- 5“Daily Briefing in Relation to the Military Coup,” AAPP, May 31, 2023, https://aappb.org/?p=25045.
- 6Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, https://aappb.org/. https://cpj.org/data/?status=Killed&start_year=2021&end_year=2023&group…
- 7"Aye Kyaw,” Committee to Protect Journalists, https://cpj.org/data/people/aye-kyaw/.
- 8What’s happening in Myanmar,” Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, https://coup.aappb.org
- 10Luke Harding “Outrage in Myanmar after activist allegedly tortured to death,” The Guardian, March 15, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/15/the-death-of-zaw-myat-lyn…
- 11“Situation of human rights in Myanmar since 1 February 2021,” A/HRC/49/72, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session49/Documen…
- 12“Political Prisoners Experience in Interrogation, Judiciary, and Incarceration Since Burma’s Illegitimate Military Coup,” Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, March 2022, https://aappb.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Prison-Situational-Report_…
- 13Myet Thwel, “Female political prisoners brutally beaten in Mandalay’s Obo Prison,” Myanmar Now, February 14, 2023, https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/female-political-prisoners-brutally-bea… ; “Situation of human rights in Myanmar since 1 February 2021,” A/HRC/49/72, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session49/Documen…;
- 14Shawn Crispin, “American journalist Nathan Maung describes alleged abuse during Myanmar imprisonment,” Committee to Protect Journalists, July 1, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/07/american-journalist-nathan-maung-alleged-abuse-…; “CPJ calls on Myanmar to release Kamayut Media editor Nathan Maung, news producer Hanthar Nyein,” Committee to Protect Journalists, May 21, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/05/cpj-calls-on-myanmar-to-release-kamayut-media-e…; “Myanmar sentences journalists Hanthar Nyein and Than Htike Aung to 2 years in prison,” Committee to Protect Journalists, March 24, 2022, https://cpj.org/2022/03/myanmar-sentences-journalists-hanthar-nyein-and….
- 15Andrew Nachemson, “‘Watermelon suppression’: doxing campaign targets pro-democracy soldiers and police,” Frontier Myanmar, March 14, 2022, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/watermelon-suppression-doxing-campai…
- 16Personal communications with digital activists with relatives inside military barracks, 23 March 2021.
- 17Andrew Nachemson, “‘Watermelon suppression’: doxing campaign targets pro-democracy soldiers and police,” Frontier Myanmar, March 14, 2022, https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/watermelon-suppression-doxing-campai…
- 18Soe San Aung, “Myanmar junta using social media to track its opponents,” RFA, March 3, 2022, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/social-media-03032022175020.ht…; “‘Blood Comrades’ Issue Threats to Myanmar Media,” VOA, June 9, 2022: https://www.voanews.com/a/blood-comrades-issue-threats-to-myanmar-media…
- 19Alyson Chadwick and Simon Billenness, “Myanmar’s military is using TikTok against protesters. The app must take a stand.,” The Washington Post, March 16, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/16/myanmars-military-is…
- 21Bo Kyi, “Myanmar Junta’s Tactic of Re-Arresting Political Prisoners is ‘Psychological Warfare,’” The Irrawaddy, November 5, 2021, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-juntas-tactic-of-re-arrest…
- 22“Myanmar Media on the Verge of Collapse,” NHK World, March 2, 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20220310081516/https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkwo….
- 23“Digital Battlegrounds: Politically motivated abuse of Myanmar women online,” Myanmar Witness, January 25, 2023, https://www.myanmarwitness.org/reports/digital-battlegrounds.
- 24Panel discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon, February 28-29, 2020.
- 25“Myanmar: The social atrocity: Meta and the right to remedy for the Rohingya,” Amnesty International, September 29, 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa16/5933/2022/en/.
- 26“Report exposes arbitrary detention, torture of Myanmar activists,” Al Jazeera, April 23, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/report-exposes-arbitrary-detenti….
- 27Lawi Weng, “Buddhist Monk Accused of Aiding Ethnic Armed Group Tortured by Myanmar Military,” The Irrawaddy, October 31, 2019, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/buddhist-monk-accused-aiding-ethni….
- 28Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), “Hpa-an District Interview: Arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and intimidation by BGF soldiers and village authorities, March 2020,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, June 26, 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/myanmar/hpa-district-interview-arbitrary-a….
- 29“Daring to defy Myanmar’s patriarchy,” Free Expression Myanmar, December 2018, http://freeexpressionmyanmar.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/daring-to-d…; “Social media companies must stand up to junta’s online terror campaign says UN expert,” OHCHR, March 13, 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/03/myanmar-social-media-co…
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
Websites, Facebook accounts, and email services have been subjected to technical attacks in Myanmar, and the military has reportedly attempted to recruit hackers.1
Human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists continued to report regular, often weekly, attempts to hack their devices, email, and social media accounts during the coverage period.2 Advanced espionage malware, thought to originate in China and be state sponsored,3 has repeatedly been found hidden in widespread Burmese-language fonts that are commonly shared via USB sticks or available for download online, including on the national presidential website as of June 2021.4 Several media outlets claim to have had their Facebook and YouTube accounts hacked since the coup, before later restoring them.5 Prior to the coup, pro-Rohingya and Muslim activists reported frequent hacking attempts, and online activists noted that Google regularly warned them of “government-backed attackers” attempting to hack their Google accounts.6
In 2021, several government websites, including those of the central bank and state television stations, were hacked and defaced with anticoup messages.7 Some 330 GB of government-held corporate financial data was leaked in February 2021, including details on how military-controlled firms and coup leaders used Google services.8
- 1“As early as December 2022, the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing was warned by his security chiefs that the military-sponsored elections will trigger waves of violence across Myanmar”, FORSEA, March 29, 2023: https://forsea.co/a-translation-of-myanmar-militarys-secret-document/
- 2Discussions with digital rights defenders, 2023.
- 3Tim Starks, “An espionage campaign spread its wings from Myanmar to the Philippines, raising new questions,” Cyberscoop, July 14, 2021, https://www.cyberscoop.com/espionage-myanmar-philippines-china-hacking/
- 4Catalin Cimpanu, “Backdoor malware found on the Myanmar president’s website, again,” The Record, June 2, 2021, https://therecord.media/backdoor-malware-found-on-the-myanmar-president…
- 5Discussions with media freedom defenders, March 16, 2022.
- 6Discussions with Myanmar digital rights activists, July 15, 2019; personal communications with a pro-Rohingya activist, Yangon, April 2018.
- 7“Hackers target Myanmar government websites in coup protest,” Bangkok Post, February 18, 2021, https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/2070287/hackers-target-myanmar-govern…
- 8Jeff Elder, “Activists call on Google to crack down on Myanmar coup leaders using services like Blogger and Gmail,” Business Insider, February 16, 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/myanmar-military-coup-using-google-gmai….
- 9Patrick Howell O’Neill, “The spyware used by Arab dictators has now shown up in Myanmar,” MIT Technology Review, July 10, 2019, https://www.technologyreview.com/f/613939/spyware-dealers-spotted-in-my…; “New FinSpy iOS and Android implants revealed ITW,” Securelist, Kapersky, July 10, 2019, https://securelist.com/new-finspy-ios-and-android-implants-revealed-itw….
- 10Mobile phone spy software includes mSpy, FlexiSpy, Highster, SpyEra, TheOneSpy, and Mobile Spy. Personal communications with women human rights defenders, Yangon, February 2018.
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score9 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score10 100 not free
Freedom in the World StatusNot Free