PEN America and PEN Myanmar Jointly Call for End to Government Internet Shutdown in Myanmar

Shutdown is a Direct Violation of Basic Freedom of Expression and Access to Information Rights in the West of Myanmar

(New York)– The internet shutdown in 9 townships in parts of Rakhine and Chin states in Myanmar, areas that have seen a recent escalation in fighting between the Arakan Army insurgent group and the military in recent weeks, is a direct restriction of the right to information and free expression and should be lifted immediately, PEN America and PEN Myanmar said today.

The shutdown was reportedly ordered on June 20 by Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, citing a “disturbance of peace and use of internet services to coordinate illegal activity,” and it took effect the following day at 10pm local time. An official for the Ministry of Transport and Communications stated that the shutdown was “for the sake of security and the public interest.” The government’s instruction to mobile operators to shutter internet services was invoked under Section 77 of the 2013 Telecommunications Law. The internet blackout has disrupted almost any form of news flow to and from the area, limiting access to basic information not only to journalists but all others.

“The internet shutdown implemented by the government is a direct violation of basic freedom of expression and access to information rights for affected citizens in the west of Myanmar,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We condemn the authorities’ decision to broadly curtail this vital form of communication in an area that has been experiencing unrest and serious rights violations. PEN America and PEN Myanmar join those calling on Myanmar to end the internet shutdown and to allow its citizens access to internet.”

“PEN Myanmar also raises an objection to the internet shutdown in Rakhine State,” added Myo Myint Nyein, President of PEN Myanmar. “The shutdown has been protested by the Rakhine State parliament, and the Union Government needs to listen to the opinion of state-level lawmakers and lift the ban.”

Under the ruling National League for Democracy government, hoped-for improvements in the environment for free expression have not materialized. Instead, an increasing number of journalists have been arrested and jailed for their work, dozens of cases have been filed against individuals for online expression under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, and access to information–particularly from the conflict areas of Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin states–has been restricted. Even though the May 7 pardon and release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, recipients of PEN America’s 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, was a step in the right direction, other journalists attempting to cover the conflict with the Arakan Army have recently faced criminal complaints, and many civilians in Myanmar are denied access to a free flow of information.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: PEN America media consultant Suzanne Trimel, [email protected]

View the original press release here.

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