Myanmar’s new military government orders to temporarily block internet access

Updated at 1.46AM PT February 6: Telenor says Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) has directed all mobile operators to temporarily shut down the data network in Myanmar. Voice and SMS services remain open.

“In the directive, the MoTC cites legal basis in Myanmar’s Telecommunication Law, and references circulation of fake news, stability of the nation and interest of the public as basis for the order. Telenor Myanmar, as a local company, is bound by local law and needs to handle this irregular and difficult situation. We have employees on the ground and our first priority is to ensure their safety,” it added in a statement.

Our original story from Friday follows:

Myanmar’s new military government has ordered local telecom operators, internet gateways, and other internet service providers to block Twitter and Instagram in the South Asian country days after imposing a similar blackout on Facebook to ensure “stability” in the Southeast Asian nation.

Norwegian telecom giant Telenor, which is one of the largest telecos in Myanmar, said the government has ordered ISPs to block Twitter and Instagram “until further notice.” The directive has “legal basis in Myanmar’s telecommunications law,” Telenor said, but it is challenging the “necessity and proportionality of the directive in its response to Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications, and highlighted the directive’s contradiction with international human rights law.”

It adds: “Telenor Group is gravely concerned with this development in Myanmar, and emphasises that freedom of expression through access to communication services should be maintained at all times, especially during times of conflict. Customers in Myanmar trying to access the affected services on web will be directed to a landing page, which states that the site cannot be reached due to the directive by MoTC. Telenor Group believes in open communication. Together with Telenor Myanmar we are actively looking to restore access to the services as soon as possible.”

Several users from Myanmar confirmed that they were unable to access Twitter. NetBlocks, which tracks global internet usage, further reported that multiple networks in the country had started to block the American social network.

In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch: “We’re deeply concerned about the order to block Internet services in Myanmar. It undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard. The Open Internet is increasingly under threat around the world. We will continue to advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns. We understand some people across the Asia-Pacific region may also be having trouble accessing Twitter, and we’re working to fix it.”

The nation’s Transport and Communications alleged in its order, dated February 5, that Twitter and Facebook-owned Instagram were being abused to spread propaganda and misinformation to the public and this posed threat to stability of the nation. The ministry had offered the same explanation when it ordered to temporarily block Facebook until February 7th midnight earlier this week. (State-owned MPT, the largest telecom operator in Myanmar, was already blocking Instagram, as well as WhatsApp on its network, according to NetBlocks.)

Friday’s order comes as thousands of Myanmar citizens joined Twitter this week to protest the new military government that seized power by detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders of her National League for Democracy, which won by landslide last year.