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Myanmar Shuts Internet Again as Protest Crackdown Continues

Soldiers place barbed wire barricades during a protest in Yangon on Feb. 15.

(Bloomberg) --Myanmar’s junta shut down the internet for a second straight night, part of efforts to stem nationwide protests after it seized power from civilian leaders on Feb. 1.

By Bloomberg News
Word Count: 595
The blackout came shortly after state-run MRTV said army chief Min Aung Hlaing approved changes to the telecommunications law cracking down on illegal activity online and allowing for harsher prison sentences for offenders. Authorities have sought to disrupt telephone and internet access to prevent demonstrators from organizing while also granting themselves new powers to intercept communications and detain dissidents.
Protests continued on Tuesday in defiance of a ban on public gatherings imposed after the coup. The junta is scheduled to give its first press briefing since it took power later on Tuesday, while the U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Thomas Vajda plans to host a virtual town hall for American citizens.

According to a copy of the amended telecommunications law seen by Bloomberg News, anyone found guilty of perpetuating a cyber-attack to threaten national sovereignty or unity may now face up to five years in prison and fines of as much 30 million kyat (about $22,570). Those who commit such attacks to hurt Myanmar’s relationship with other countries face even stiffer penalties, up to seven years in prison and a 50 million kyat fine.

Those found guilty of spreading fake news or hoaxes online to cause public panic, or publishing private information of another individual without their permission, meanwhile face up to three years in prison and fines of as much as 5 million kyat.

Myanmar’s military leaders have struggled to gain control of the streets since ousting the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won a landslide victory in November elections. She has urged the country’s 55 million people to oppose the army’s move, calling it “an attempt to bring the nation back under the military dictatorship.”

Suu Kyi and other political leaders are among more than 400 people detained since the coup, a number that keeps rising by the day. While authorities have largely avoided confronting protesters in major cities like Yangon who have ignored a ban on public gatherings, several demonstrators have been injured in crackdowns — including a woman shot in the head who is now on life support in Naypyidaw, the capital.

Suu Kyi will remain in detention ahead of a Wednesday court hearing, Reuters reported, citing her lawyer.

Telenor Group, which owns one of two wholly foreign owned telecommunications providers in Myanmar, on Monday joined mounting opposition to the junta’s proposed cyber-security bill, saying it gives the regime broad powers including the ability to order lawful interception. The Asia Internet Coalition, whose members include Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Google, stated on Feb. 11 that the bill allows for unprecedented censorship, violates privacy and would “significantly undermine freedom of expression.”

“The current very short and limited consultation has not allowed for the required dialog on the proposed Cyber Security Bill,” Telenor said in a statement. “We are concerned that the proposed bill does not progress relevant regulatory frameworks and law for a digital future, nor promotes and safeguards digital safety and rights.”

(Updates with amendments to the telecommunications law from 2nd pararaph)
© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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