Myanmar blocks Facebook as UN chief calls world rally against coup

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s generals ordered Internet providers to restrict access to Facebook yesterday, as United Nations (UN) Chief Antonio Guterres said the world must rally to ensure the military coup fails.

The Southeast Asian nation was plunged back into direct military rule on Monday as de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders were detained in a series of dawn raids, ending the country’s brief experiment with democracy.

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

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

But people have flocked to social media to voice opposition and share plans for civil disobedience – especially on Facebook.

“We have digital power… so we’ve been using this since day one to oppose the military junta,” said activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi, who’s behind a so-called ‘Civil Disobedience Movement’ fanning out across social media platforms.

Telenor, one of the country’s main telecoms providers, confirmed yesterday that authorities had ordered it to “temporarily block” Facebook access.

The Norwegian-owned company said it had to comply but “does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law”.

Facebook confirmed access “is currently disrupted for some people” and urged authorities to restore connectivity.

NetBlocks, which monitors Internet outages around the world, said the disruptions were also affecting Facebook-owned apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

For many in Myanmar, Facebook is the gateway to the Internet and a vital way to gather information.

“The first thing we look at each morning is our phone, the last thing we look at in the night is our phone,” Aye, a 32-year-old entrepreneur opposed to the coup, told AFP.

A small rally kicked off yesterday in front of Mandalay Medicine University, saw protesters carrying signs that said, “People’s protest against the military coup!”. Local media said police arrested four people, although authorities could not confirm the detentions to AFP.