Myanmar junta shuts Twitter, Instagram as protests expand

YANGON, MYANMAR (AP) — The military authorities in charge of Myanmar broadened a ban on social media following this week’s coup, shutting accesss to Twitter and Instagram, while street protests continued to expand yesterday as people gathered again to show their opposition to the army takeover.

About 1,000 protesters — factory workers and students prominent among them — marched yesterday through the streets of Yangon, the country’s biggest city.

By noon, more than 100 police in riot gear had been deployed to block them from moving ahead. Members of the crowd shouted “Military dictatorship should fall” and “Down with dictatorship”.

In addition to Facebook and related apps, the military government on Friday ordered communications operators and Internet service providers to cut access to Twitter and Instagram. The statement said that some people are trying to use both platforms to spread fake news.

Social media users expressed concern over unconfirmed reports that all Internet access might soon be cut off, at least through the weekend. Some say they had lost service on their mobile networks.

Netblocks, which tracks social media disruptions and shutdowns, confirmed the loss of Twitter service starting 10pm. Instagram was already subject to restrictions.

In a statement, Twitter said it is “deeply concerned” about the order to block Internet services in Myanmar and vowed to “advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns”.

“It undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard,” Twitter spokesperson said.

State media are heavily censored and Facebook in particular has become the main source of news and information in the country. It is also used to organise protests. For the fourth night on Friday, the cacophony of noise from windows and balconies reverberated through Yangon neighbourhoods, as resistance to the coup and arrests of activists and politicians gathered steam.

Earlier on Friday, nearly 300 elected lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party declared themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of the people and asked for international recognition as the country’s government.

They were supposed to take their seats tomorrow in a new session of Parliament following November elections when the military announced it was taking power for a year.

Four activists show a three-finger salute of protest during their court appearance in Mandalay, Myanmar. PHOTO: AP