Internet Access Amid Darkness and Lives Amid Threats

May 13, 2022

Analysis of Internet Blackout

Chapter 1. Introduction

Internet access is a crucial medium of communication in promoting democratic rights, human rights, and the right to freedom of expression. It has become essential not only in our daily routine but in a range of other activities such as verbal expression, writing, and information dissemination for communication, information sharing, education, health, and a citizen’s right to participation in political affairs. While internet access has become a fundamental human right in the global community, it is weaponised to obstruct and oppress people’s right to freedom of expression in authoritarian states or states ruled by strongmen.

In Myanmar, a country ruled by successive authoritarian governments, internet access is often cut to stash human rights violations of authoritarian rulers. Mainly, Myanmar encountered three significant internet shutdowns at three different times in history. The earliest incident was on 28 September 2007 during the Saffron Revolution.

The number of social media users in Myanmar was over20million in January 2022, which dropped by nearly 9 million from 29 million in January 2021 when Myanmar saw 29 million social media users.

(1.1)Internet Blackout in 2007

When Saffron Revolution emerged on 20 September 2007, only one percent of Myanmar’s population had internet access2. The very low internet access, however, failed to prevent the people from spreading footage of regime troops dispersing the peaceful protests in the revolution to global media moguls, mostly using internet cafes. Then-military junta raided Myanmar Info-Tech, situated within the compound of Yangon University, in Yangon’s Hlaing township, on 28 September to curb the dissemination. Saffron Revolution mainly demanded lower consumer prices, political dialogues, and the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners.3

(1.2)Internet Shutdown in Rakhine State and Chin State in 2019

About a population of 1.4 million was subject to human rights violations in internet disruption under the NLD-led so-called democratic government.4Internet connectivity was cut off in eight townships of Rakhine State and Chin State’s Paletwa township for more than a year, from June 2019 until August 2020 when only 2G internet was restored5, ending up with a severe impact on information access and circulation as well as a failure to receive real-time information relating to coronavirus. As a result of the delayed process of providing health aid and lack of credible information, the COVID19cases surged in the two ethnic minority States during the second wave of the pandemic6while the residents experienced socio-economic problems and academic studies in their daily lives.7

(1.3)International Standards on Internet Shutdown

An Internet shutdown occurs when a government disrupts Internet services in order to prevent its people from accessing the Internet. Full Internet shutdowns include blackouts, where a population entirely loses Internet access. Other tactics, while technically only partially shutting down the Internet, can still substantially cut Internet access. For example, a government can order a service provider to slow a connection so much that most websites cannot load. Or it can halt mobile data services, effectively blocking the Internet for those who only access the Internet via their phones.

Governments may also interfere with the Internet in other ways, such as by blocking access to specific websites. When government blocks are sweeping, such as by creating an extensive “blacklist” of prohibited sites or blocking popular sites such as social media, the impact may be similar to an Internet shutdown. In practice, governments often use a mix of tactics to restrict Internet access, alternating full blackouts with other restrictions.8

Regardless of the technical tool or method used, any interference which substantially prevents persons from accessing the Internet raises similar concerns under international human rights law. The right to freedom of expression, which is protected under human rights law, also includes the right to access information. In the modern era, this includes a right to access the Internet, which is indispensable for receiving and sharing information in today’s society.9

Governments may restrict freedom of expression and access to information, but only according to a precise three-part test.10Under this test, any restriction on freedom of expression must:

  1. Be provided for by law
  2. 2)Seek to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights or reputations of others
  3. Be necessary to protect one of those interests and constitute a proportionate response. This means that if the claimed interest is national security, for example, the government cannot generically reference national security concerns. Instead, the restriction must be carefully tailored. It should only limit freedom of expression to the extent necessary to prevent harm to a specific national security interest.11

Internet shutdowns can never meet these standards and are always improper under international law.12If the shutdown occurs without a proper legal basis, such as by an arbitrary order, it is automatically improper under part one of the test. Similarly, if it is for an improper purpose (such as silencing political opposition) it cannot meet part two of the test. However, even if a shutdown is legally authorised and for a proper purpose, it will never be able to meet the third part of the three-part test. Cutting internet access entirely is always an unnecessary and disproportionate measure, even in response to a legitimate public safety or security concern.

In summary, Internet shutdowns violate international human rights law. They are not permissible under protections for freedom of expression and access to information. They also negatively impact other rights, including social, economic,and cultural rights. Actions which are not technically a full shutdown but mimic their impacts, such as widespread blocking of popular websites and platforms, also are not acceptable under international human rights law.

Chapter 2

Returns to Dark Age in 2021 or Human Rights Violations Concealed Under Internet Blackout

The military shut down internet and mobile phone connection at a nationwide level at the dawn of 1 February 2021, hours before staging a coup d’état. Myanmar saw two common types of internet disruption after the coup: (1) Nationwide internet blackout and (2) regional internet blackout.

(2.1)Nationwide Internet blackout

In terms of practising nationwide internet shutdown, there are three types of blackout: (1) Blackout for Several Days (2) Blackout for a Specific Period and Number of Days,and,(3) Internet Speed Restriction and Internet Tax Increase. The military junta instilled nationwide long-term internet outages initially after the coup.

(2.2)Blackout for several days

Disruption of mobile phone access and mobile internet connectivity commenced in a nationwide internet shutdown on early 1 February 2021 when the coup was staged. Internet access was restored on 1 February afternoon until another nationwide shutdown between 6 February and 7 February, which lasted for about 30 hours. Wi-Fiinternet and mobile internet were cut off from 1 am to 9 am daily between 14 February and 15 March. Another nationwide internet blackout was staged between 15 March at 1 am and 28 April.13

(2.3) Blackout for Specific Period and Number of Days

(a) Internet Blackout During NUG’s Meeting

The brutal military junta issued a directive ordering telecommunication service providers across the country to cut mobile internet access on 4 June 2021, to prevent people from watching an online meeting held by the NUG, with another blockage of Wi-Fiinternet from 5 pm to 6 pm.14

(b) Blackout Observed on 12 February 2022

A nationwide mobile internet shutdown was imposed from 4 am to 11 am to prevent anti-junta protests on “Union Day” which was named by the successive authoritarian regime, observed on12 February 2022.15

(2.4) Internet Speed Restriction and Internet Taxes Increase

Internet speed has been significantly throttled with a ban on a great number of websites and social media platforms since the military coup16. Using Virtual Private Network (VPN) also caused noticeable internet latency.

Besides, the military junta announced an internet data package increase, starting from 8 December 2021. Previously, 999 Myanmar Kyat could have bought 925 MB of data on Telenor and Ooredoo, and 999 Myanmar Kyat 950 MB of data in MPT respectively. Accordingto the changes on 8 December, 1,990 Kyat could buy only 1 GB of data in Telenor and Ooredoo, 1,795 Kyat 935 MB in MPT, and 968 Kyat 512 MB on Mytel.17

Chapter 3

Regional Internet Blackout

Myanmar people from various areas took up arms to resist the brutal military junta following its violent crackdowns, unlawful arrests, torture, unlawful detentions, and killings of peaceful protesters as millions of people around the country joined protests against the coup. Thus, Local Defence Forces (LDFs) and People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) evolved into stronger organisationsin Sagaing Region, Magway Region, Mandalay Region, Chin State, and Kayah (Karenni) State which, after 2021, especially became intense battlefields where the military junta cut off internet connections in some parts to rupture information flow. Internet blackout was imposed on most townships in Sagaing Region, some townships in Magway Region, the entire Chin State, some townships in Kayah (Karenni) State, and one township in Kachin State, and two townships in Mandalay Region.


A handful of the aforementioned areas under the blanket ban on internet access reported intermittent internet access at some points despite the military-issued long-term internet blackout in those areas. This report, however, considers those areas as the areas under long-term internet and phone access blackout.

“The combats between two parties (the regime troops and the local defense forces) were intense. The military junta experienced heavy casualties so they cut the internet while they were sending reinforcements. …

Download Eng Full Report: PDF

Download MM Full Report: PDF