Myanmar blocks Facebook, opposition grows

·3-min read

Myanmar's junta has blocked Facebook in the name of ensuring stability and activists say at least three people have been arrested at a street protest against the coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Thursday's move to silence online activists came after police filed charges against Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi for illegally importing communications equipment.

Opposition to the junta has emerged very strongly on Facebook, which is the country's main online platform and underpins communications for business and government.

Facebook's WhatsApp messaging service was also blocked.

International pressure meanwhile continues to grow for the junta to accept the results of November elections won by her party in a landslide.

Inside Myanmar, opposition to the junta has emerged strongly on Facebook, which is the main internet platform for the country and underpins communications for business and government.

The social network was still available sporadically and demonstrators in the second city of Mandalay used it to live stream the first street protest since the coup in a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on demonstrations.

"People's protest against military coup", read one of the banners as a group of around 20 people chanted: "Our arrested leaders, release now, release now".

Three people were arrested after the protest, three separate student groups said.

Social media has also been used to share images of a campaign of disobedience by staff at government hospitals across the country, who accuse the army of putting its interests above a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 3100 people, one of the highest tolls in Southeast Asia.

The Ministry of Communications and Information said Facebook, used by half of Myanmar's 53 million people, would be blocked until February 7.

"Currently the people who are troubling the country's stability ... are spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook," the ministry said.

Suu Kyi has not been seen since her arrest in the early hours of Monday along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy.

An NLD official has said she is under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, but there has been no word from the junta on her whereabouts.

The NLD won about 80 per cent of the vote in the November 8 polls, according to the election commission, a result the military has refused to accept, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.

The United Nations said it would increase international pressure to ensure the will of the people is respected.

"We will do everything we can to mobilise all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure this coup fails," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during an interview broadcast by The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Addressing the coup in Myanmar was a priority for the United States, and Washington was reviewing possible sanctions in response, the White House said on Wednesday.

Police said six walkie-talkie radios had been found in a search of Suu Kyi's home in Naypyidaw that were imported illegally and used without permission.

In court documents, police requested Suu Kyi's detention until February 15 "in order to question witnesses, request evidence and seek legal counsel after questioning the defendant".

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chair Charles Santiago said the charges against Suu Kyi were ludicrous.

"This is an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimise their illegal power grab", he said.

A separate document showed police filed charges against ousted President Win Myint, who was also detained on Monday, for violating protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus.