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Freedom of the Net 2020

October 13th, 2020  •  Author:   Free Expression Myanmar , Freedom House  •  87 minute read
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  2018 2019 2020
Internet Freedom Status Not Free Not Free Not Free
A.     Obstacles to Access (0-25 points) 10 10 7
B.     Limits on Content (0-35 points) 16 16 13
C.     Violations of User Rights (0-40 points) 10 10 11
Total (0-100 points) 36 36 31

Internet freedom in Myanmar declined dramatically, as the government ramped up its censorship ahead of elections expected in November 2020. The government has shut down mobile internet access in parts of Rakhine and Chin States sin ce June 2019, taking over a million people offline. Moreover, authorities ordered service providers to block independent and regionally based news outlets in March 2020. The military and ruling party continued manipulating online content, while users were hesitant to discuss sensitive topics such as gender, the predominantly Muslim Rohingya ethnic group, and conflicts in Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin. Worryingly, some individuals who criticized the government online faced prosecutions and even prison time under a range of laws, including the repressive Telecommunications Law.

Myanmar’s transition from military dictatorship to democracy has faltered under the leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which came to power in relatively free elections in 2015 but has failed to uphold human rights or bring security to areas affected by armed conflict. The military retains significant influence over politics, and the government’s 2017 military operation that forced more than 700,000 members of the Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh remains a point of international concern. Journalists, demonstrators, and ordinary people risk legal charges and detention for voicing dissent.

Key Developments

  • In June 2019, the government cut off mobile internet for over a million people in parts of Rakhine State and Chin State, areas where the military has conducted crackdowns, first against the Rohingya, and more recently against the Rakhine ethnic group. The shutdown continued as of September 2020 (see C3).
  • In March 2020, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) issued a series of directives ordering internet providers to block websites, such as Narinjara News, Mandalay In-Depth News, Mekong News, Voice of Myanmar, and Karen News (see B1 and B3).
  • The government reportedly threatened to cancel licenses unless license-holders complied with demands to block websites (see A4).
  • From February through June 2020, the online #StopInternetShutdownMM campaign was combined with offline protests to call for an ending to the shutdowns in Rakhine and Chin States. Some offline demonstrators faced criminal charges for protesting without the necessary government permission (see B8).
  • Internet users continued to be prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to prison under the Telecommunications Law and the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens (see C3).
  • In November 2019, authorities released a tender to create a database that can store up to 70 million records of biometric data as part of its efforts to institute new biometric sim card registration requirements (see C4).

A. Obstacles to Access

Internet access continues to improve in Myanmar, as more users connect via smartphones with fast fourth-generation (4G) technology. However, in June 2019 the government implemented a draconian internet shutdown affecting over a million people across conflict-ridden areas in the Rakhine and Chin States. Continuing into 2020, it is one of the longest-running shutdowns in the world.

2018 2019 2020
A1: Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? (0–6 points) 2 2 2

Access to the internet continued to improve during the reporting period. As of 2020, 41 percent of the population used the internet, an increase of one million people since the beginning of 2019.[1] The speed and quality of service have increased in recent years due to the launch of 4G services in 2017,[2] and international bandwidth reached 445 Gbps in 2018, 15 times higher than 2013.[3] However, the overall number of users remains lower than the average for the Asia-Pacific region,[4] and internet speed is comparatively slower, particularly through fixed-line connection.[5]

Private fixed-line internet connections remain rare, and while fixed-line speeds increased during the coverage period, they remain slower than mobile connections.[6] As of 2017, only 1 in 1,667 people has a fixed broadband line, compared to 1 in 10 on average across the Asia-Pacific region.[7]

The number of mobile connections has continued to grow, increasing to 68 million in January 2020, which is equivalent to 126 percent of the population.[8] Despite this growth, the percentage of the population with a mobile connection is lower than in neighboring countries.[9] Just over 50 percent of the population has mobile connections, and many people have multiple SIM cards.[10]

Infrastructure development continues to be a challenge, with flooding and unreliable electricity hampering connectivity, while an inefficient bureaucracy and private and public corruption limit growth and improvement in the sector.[11] New sanctions adopted in the wake of the Rohingya crisis have also been applied to the export of telecommunications equipment to Myanmar, although it is unclear whether or how the sanctions have affected infrastructure development.[12] Meanwhile, infrastructure has been damaged by a range of problems such as rodents, car accidents, and construction.[13]

2018 2019 2020
A2: Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? (0–3 points) 1 1 1

The internet became accessible to more people during the coverage period. Mobile data plans are affordable relative to other countries in the region.[14]

Prices for fixed broadband lines have continued to decrease, dropping on average by half between 2018 and 2020, though prices vary by region.[15] The costs of fixed-line connections have decreased due to competition with 4G and a dearth of demand from customers. The average fixed-line connection now costs $37 per month in urban areas, which remains prohibitively expensive for the majority of the population.

The Digital Economy Development Committee (DEDC) was launched in 2017 to support and develop economic policies that promote a digital economy.[16] In March 2019, the DEDC launched its Digital Economy Roadmap, which includes several plans to build digital inclusivity, improve connectivity, and harness technology to foster socioeconomic development. [17] The DEDC had met only twice by mid-2019 and has thus far largely operated in secret, without significant public consultation.[18] The DEDC’s Facebook page and website have not been updated since 2018 and 2017, respectively.[19] Although the Roadmap divides responsibilities among different ministries, how much, if any, budget has been allocated to operationalizing it is unclear.

National figures on internet access hide a digital divide that affects marginalized groups. Urban users who have access to 4G consume almost five times more data on average each month than the national average for all users.[20] The number of households, particularly in rural areas, that have access to a computer or to the internet remains small.[21] Users in rural areas and small towns have poorer internet connections than those in urban areas.

In recognition of the geographical disparity in people’s internet access, the government announced the development of a Universal Service Fund (USF) in April 2018 to invest in telecommunications services for areas that are otherwise underserved, with the eventual aim of reaching 99 percent of the population.[22] The USF is supported by a new 2 percent telecommunications tax that was rolled out in mid-2018.[23] However, at least some of the USF has since been reallocated into paying for a new proposed biometric database for mobile subscribers.[24]

Gender-based disparities in access are generally ignored by the government. Women are still less likely than men to own a mobile phone and significantly less likely to use the internet.[25] For women, barriers to owning and using a mobile phone to access the internet include affordability, literacy skills, and security and safety concerns.[26]

  2018 2019 2020
A3: Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? (0–6 points) 4 4 1

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 1 due to the government’s shutdown of mobile internet services in parts of Rakhine and Chin States, which has been in place since June 2019.

While the government previously refrained from restricting connectivity, the coverage period saw one of the longest internet shutdowns in the world.

In June 2019, the government cut off mobile internet for over a million people in parts of Rakhine State and Chin State, areas where the military has conducted crackdowns, first against the Rohingya, and more recently against the Rakhine ethnic group, in order to “maintain the stability and law and order.”[27] On August 31, 2019, the government restored mobile access in about half of the impacted area, but this decision was reversed in February 2020.[28] As of September 2020, the restrictions were still in effect for approximately 1.4 million people.[29] Members of parliament, journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society have spoken out about the damaging effects and the economic cost of the shutdown on an already marginalized and underdeveloped population.[30] The government has said that it will restore access when the security situation improves,[31] and a presidential spokesperson said that the government would “fulfil every request made by” Myanmar’s military with regards to the shutdown.[32]

The Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) has the power to cut off the internet without oversight or safeguards, as it owns and controls much of the telecommunications infrastructure via the state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). However, private providers are gradually diversifying ownership of mobile infrastructure and the internet backbone. Myanmar has seven internet gateways. Because experts project bandwidth demand will grow 70 percent annually in the near future, more companies are expected to develop infrastructure, including through new satellite connections.[33][34] New private internet gateways are thus making the international connection more resilient.

Myanmar has 68,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cable.[35] The first private undersea internet cable, the Myanmar-Malaysia-Thailand-International Connection (MYTHIC), was installed by the Campana Group, a company based in Singapore and jointly owned by Myanmar and Thailand. It began selling wholesale to telecommunications companies in 2017.[36] Campana Group plans to build a second undersea cable, called SIGMAR, to be launched in 2020 with enough bandwidth to serve for at least 10 years.[37] Myanmar’s government plans to launch a second satellite, MyanmarSat-2, in 2020 to support telecommunications infrastructure.[38]

The legal framework has no specific regulations relating to bandwidth throttling, but many legal provisions are vague and broad, meaning that they can be misused for such purposes. A draft cybersecurity law under consideration could include restrictive provisions that affect Myanmar’s internet infrastructure (see C2).[39]

2018 2019 2020
A4: Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? (0–6 points) 2 2 2

Although the government has awarded a number of telecommunications licenses, giving a mobile operating license to a military-owned telecommunications company has increased the state’s control over telecommunications and restricted the diversity of the market. Providers face a range of obstacles to effectively operate.

Myanmar has seen a proliferation of telecommunications licenses awarded since 2013, when deregulation removed many of the legal and regulatory barriers to entry for internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile service providers. At least 137 telecommunications licenses have been awarded,[40] and the share of subscribers using state-controlled mobile service providers is just above 50 percent.[41] The 2017 award of a telecommunication license to the military-owned operator Mytel, and the comparative scale of Mytel’s investment since launching in 2018, has undermined the diversity of providers and reasserted the state’s dominance over the telecommunications market.

Mytel is jointly owned by the Vietnamese military–controlled company Viettel, a consortium of local firms, and Star High Public Company, which is owned by the Myanmar military’s Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).[42] Mytel operates using the telecommunications infrastructure owned by MECTel, which is also owned by MEC.[43] MEC was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department between 2008 and 2016 for its role in the human rights violations committed by Myanmar’s military.[44] Some activists have called for a boycott of Mytel due to the company’s connections with the military and human rights violations.[45] In 2018, the European Union considered applying sanctions to Mytel in response to the military’s human rights abuses in Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin States.[46]

Mytel launched its 4G-only service in February 2018,[47] and had reportedly reached eight million subscribers by 2020.[48] It joined three other mobile service providers in Myanmar, all of which are owned by the Myanmar government or foreign governments.[49] Two foreign mobile service providers, Telenor and Ooredoo, have 21 and 10 million subscribers, respectively, and a third provider, the state-owned MPT, has 24 million subscribers.[50] Other providers that have received telecommunications licenses include a mixture of national and local fixed-line and mobile services. For example, Amara Communications, owned by a large domestic conglomerate, launched in May 2018 and provides a data-only service using MiFi boxes, including in Yangon, where it had already installed 300 towers by March 2018.[51] The Global Technology Group launched wireless broadband in 30 cities beginning in May 2018.[52]

The administering of licenses has been generally regarded as fair and transparent, and external efforts to influence decisions have been largely rebuffed.[53] However, in 2020, the government reportedly threatened to cancel licenses unless license-holders complied with demands to block websites, including news outlets (see B1).[54] Telecommunications providers have raised concerns about restrictions on building new towers,[55] and local government officials have stressed the need for providers to obtain permits to lay fiber-optic cables, build towers, and install Wi-Fi devices.[56]

2018 2019 2020
A5: Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?(0–4 points) 1 1 1

Myanmar’s regulatory bodies remain vulnerable to political interference and lack transparency. The MoTC’s Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD) is responsible for regulating the telecommunications sector. Under previous governments, the PTD was the regulator and a monopoly service provider for the telecommunications sector. These roles have now been separated, with the PTD acting as the regulator and the MPT acting as the state-controlled service provider. The PTD’s responsibilities include issuing and renewing telecommunications licenses, regulating the frequency spectrum, addressing consumer protection, inspecting and supervising telecommunications providers, and carrying out any administrative actions against providers.[57]

However, both the PTD and MPT lack proper safeguards to protect regulatory and operational independence, making them vulnerable to political interference. For example, presidential spokesperson, Zaw Htay, said in regard to the long internet shutdown that the government would “fulfil every request made by the [military]” (see A3).[58] Furthermore, the bodies’ decision-making processes are opaque and they rarely engage or consult with civil society.[59] Article 86 of the 2013 Telecommunications Law outlines a Myanmar Communications Regulatory Commission (MCRC), which is yet to be established.[60] Even though the mandate for the MCRC’s composition does not sufficiently safeguard the commission’s independence, the Telecommunications Law dictates that the MCRC take over regulatory functions from the PTD. Further, the commission would institute a mechanism to adjudicate any administrative issues in the telecommunications sector. Many analysts believe that the government’s failure to establish the MCRC is due to its unwillingness to relinquish the direct control it has over the telecommunications sector through the PTD.[61]

In February 2020, Facebook removed 23 pages and accounts which it said were linked to Vietnam’s Viettel and Myanmar’s Mytel service providers.[62] Facebook reported that the pages were posing as news outlets and fake customers sharing reviews about the alleged failures of competing companies.[63]

The Pricing and Tariff Regulatory Framework showcases how telecommunications rules favor state-owned service providers. The framework, an initial set of rules for mobile service providers, came into force in 2017 and included new floor pricing and a ban on offering free SIM cards or supplying telecommunications services below cost, among other rules. The rule on floor pricing included a minimum charge for data ($0.00065 per 1 MB of data), calls, SMS, and other services. The floor pricing, which was more expensive than some providers’ prices at the time of adoption, was established for all providers to follow. However, the government waived floor pricing for the military-owned Mytel, reportedly to enable it to achieve rapid growth when it was first launched.[64]

Another state institution, the Myanmar Computer Federation, which was formed under the 1996 Computer Science Development Law and is comprised of industry professionals, is the designated focal point for coordination with technology-related associations, working groups, and other stakeholders in the sector. Civil society groups have raised concerns that the federation is progovernment and operates opaquely.[65] For example, the federation’s leadership has supported some of the government’s more draconian digital surveillance policies.[66]

B. Limits on Content

The coverage period saw an escalation in technical censorship, with the government ordering the blocking of independent and regionally based news outlets in March 2020. Civil society and ordinary users responded to both the website blocks and internet shutdown with a combination of digital campaigns and offline activism. Self-censorship on a range of subjects, including the military, corruption, and the Rohingya, remains high. Social media companies have responded to pressure by opaquely increasing content removals, even when the content is legitimate. There is a lack of diversity in the ownership and content of online media outlets. Meanwhile, the government and military actively promote their own narratives online and reject much independent reporting as “fake news.”

2018 2019 2020
B1: Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content? (0–6 points) 6 6 3

Score Change: This score declined from 6 to 3 due to new website blocks that notably impacted independent and regional news outlets reporting on developments in conflict areas.

While the government refrained from blocking or filtering content prior to 2020, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) ordered ISPs to block websites in March 2020, including independent and regional news outlets.[67]

In March 2020, MoTC issued a series of directives ordering internet providers to block 2,147 websites under Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law, which allows for authorities to issue blocking orders to license-holders under “emergency situations.” Although the directives have not been publicly released, well-known independent and local news outlets and websites based in conflict-ridden areas were then blocked, including Rakhine State, such as Narinjara News, Mandalay In-Depth News, Mekong News, and Voice of Myanmar, among others. Karen News, a Karen State local news agency, was also found to be inaccessible. Several blocked outlets are owned by the Development Media Group, which previously has been targeted by authorities for their coverage of the Arakan Army (see C3).[68] According to Telenor Myanmar, 67 websites were requested to be blocked for alleged “fake news,” and 154 websites for adult or explicit content. The remaining 1,917 websites included in the MoTC’s directives are also on Interpol’s list of banned child sexual abuse websites, content which can be legitimately restricted under international human rights standards.[69]

Major telecom providers complied with the blocking orders. Telenor Myanmar, however, initially resisted the blocking of 67 websites for alleged “fake news,” citing a lack of a sufficient legal basis.[70] The provider later complied, after meeting with MoTC and determining that the “risk involved in not following the directive as regards [sic] fake news is likely to have wider implications in terms of servicing the public.”[71] In May 2020, Telenor reported that the PTD issued a directive for service providers to block an additional 22 websites that contribute to “fearmongering” and “misleading” people about COVID-19.[72]

Again in August 2020, after the coverage period, the provider announced that the PTD ordered service providers to block a website and three associated IP addresses.[73] The civil society group Justice for Myanmar reported that its website was blocked, with a message saying the page “has been blocked per directive received from the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Myanmar” when trying to access the site. Justice for Myanmar is a group of activists that had previously exposed corruption among the military.

Since the website blockings began in March, civil society has initiated campaigns to raise public awareness of the blocks.[74] Given the lack of transparency around content restrictions, it remains unclear whether more directives have been issued and testing for restrictions is ongoing (see B3).

In 2012, the government lifted all prior censorship of traditional and electronic media, with the exception of films, dissolving the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division shortly thereafter. The government does not actively publish blocking and filtering lists

2018 2019 2020
B2: Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, admini-strative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? (0–4 points) 1 1 1

Pressure to remove content continues to originate from state and nonstate actors both within Myanmar and from outside the country. Google, Twitter, and Facebook have not reported any official requests for content removals from the government.[75] Facebook does not declare how many private restriction requests it receives, but has reported restricting access to some allegedly defamatory content.[76] There are no publicly available reports on formal government or court requests for publishers and content hosts to remove content.

However, the government employs other channels to pressure social media platforms and users. The government continues to call for content hosts and platforms, notably Facebook but also WhatsApp, to address rampant intolerance, misinformation, and incitement on their platforms.[77] But the government itself has failed to tackle these problems and individuals linked to the government are often alleged to be responsible for perpetrating them.[78]

Ahead of elections expected in November 2020, the Union Election Commission has announced the establishment of its social media monitoring mechanism to flag and remove content that is hateful and harmful to the vote. While the Commission has reported that Facebook agreed to remove flagged content, Facebook had not confirmed its participation as of May 2020 beyond working with the Commission generally in the lead up to the vote.[79]

Civil society organizations have also pressured digital platforms to remove content, particularly after investigative reports on inflammatory online content that encouraged violence against the Rohingya people.[80] Some organizations are concerned that the quantity of problematic content, much of it organized, will increase in the run up to the 2020 general elections.[81]

Partially as a result, Facebook has increased its moderation practices and the use of its automated filtering mechanisms to remove content.[82] According to the company, it has removed hundreds of pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram originating within and outside of Myanmar—accounts with millions of followers—for violating its community standards.[83] Removals included the accounts and pages of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing of the Myanmar Armed Forces, the military’s Myawaddy television network, and other military leaders,[84] as well as nonstate actors such as the ultranationalist anti-Muslim monk Wirathu and pages run by the Buddhist ultranationalist group Ma Ba Tha.[85] In August 2019, Facebook removed 89 accounts and 107 pages—some of which the platform claims are associated with the military—for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”[86] The pages and accounts of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Kachin Independence Army, and Ta’ang National Liberation Army were also removed because Facebook considered them “dangerous organizations.”[87] This designation meant that any content and pages supporting these individuals or groups could also be removed once identified. However, the consequence of the increasing number of takedowns has been that legitimate content has been removed as well.[88]

A 2020 survey of journalists conducted by Free Expression Myanmar found that Facebook had warned a third of the participants that their journalistic content violated the platform’s Community Standards.[89] Of those surveyed, 15 percent have had content removed.

Activists, particularly women and religious minorities, reported being subjected to violence or threats intended to force them to remove their own content.[90] Pressure to remove content is also prevalent in coordinated reporting campaigns. In these campaigns, users exploit Facebook’s mechanism for reporting content that violates the platform’s community standards in order to disable pages or temporarily limit users’ ability to post or send messages, although Facebook has stated that such actions have been prevented.[91]Activists argued that progovernment and military users carried out a targeted campaign to report the content of pro-Rohingya and human rights groups.

  2018 2019 2020
B3: Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportion-ality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? (0–4 points) 1 1 1

A number of restrictions on digital content lack proportionality and transparency. The Telecommunications Law includes a broad provision giving the MoTC the absolute power to temporarily block and filter content “for the benefit of the people.”[92] The law does not explicitly hold intermediaries liable for content, although some provisions are vague and could feasibly be used for content removal.[93]There are also no avenues for appealing restrictions,[94] and the only potential safeguard against abuse, the MCRC, has still not been established (see A5).

In lieu of the MCRC, the PTD retains control over content restrictions. The PTD does not publish procedural information on how or when any such decisions are made, and by whom. Government directives ordering the internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin States, and ordering website blocks, have not been published, and users have had to rely on telecommunications companies and civil society testing for more information about content restrictions.[95] Recipients of directives are sometimes unwilling to publicize the order’s exact terms and there are no reported legal actions to test the directives’ lawfulness.

Facebook expanded its appeals process for account and page takedowns[96] after civil society groups continued to raise concerns that the platform’s policies had become unreasonable; accounts and pages were being removed without giving specific issues.[97] Some activists continue to argue that some of Facebook’s removals have compromised the public’s right to information about important national stakeholders, and that they have swept up a wide range of legitimate content, including commentary on and documentation of human rights violations.[98] For example, some media outlets, journalists, and human rights defenders have alleged that their content has been wrongfully removed, particularly journalistic content covering banned organizations.[99] Despite requests from civil society,[100] Facebook is only minimally transparent about its restrictions.

Facebook is similarly opaque about its new appeals process and does not publish substantial information about content removal decisions. Some in civil society suspect that such opacity masks significant internal problems, such as poorly trained staff who lack contextual and language expertise, problematic and insufficient algorithms,[101] and disproportionate decision-making.[102]

2018 2019 2020
B4: Do online journalists, comment-ators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? (0–4 points) 1 1 1

Self-censorship online remains widespread, including among journalists.[103] Journalists, online personalities, and ordinary users face a range of pressures to agree with government narratives on matters relating to the military, big business, armed conflict, religion, and certain sensitive social and religious issues.[104] The use of pseudonyms, which developed during military rule and enables people to speak out with less fear of repercussions, remains common online despite a ban on the practice by Facebook and other social media platforms.[105] Users are also learning to self-censor words and phrases deemed likely to be automatically identified and removed by content hosts such as Facebook, regardless of their legitimacy.[106]

Self-censorship is particularly common in discussing or reporting on the Rohingya.[107] For example, some journalists and media outlets have opted to use terms such as “Muslims” in order to lessen potential backlash online. The discriminatory term “Bengalis” is sometimes used, in an attempt to link the Rohingya to Bangladesh.[108] Pro-Rohingya activists have largely relied on social media and the international media to distribute information about violence and discrimination in Rakhine State, partly because few domestic media outlets are willing to take the security and financial risks of violence and boycotts associated with reporting on the crisis.[109] The online defamation charges laid against Reuters—one of the world’s largest media companies—and the convictions of two of their journalists have underlined the seriousness of the threat (see C3).[110]

Self-censorship on gender issues is also widespread online among journalists and human rights defenders.[111] Women discussing sex and women’s bodies online are often abused and harassed. [112] For example, while the global #MeToo campaign gained initial traction in Myanmar, some activists claim that survivors of sexual violence now often self-censor, having seen the intimidation faced by other women who have spoken out.[113]

2018 2019 2020
B5: Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? (0–4 points) 1 1 1

The government and the military continue to dominate public discourse and have sought to control information domestically. Despite years of affirming their desire for media freedom, once in power, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party resolved to retain state-run media,[114] in order to control publicly available information.[115] As a result, the government and the military still control the entire broadcasting sector and a significant portion of print media, including those outlets’ online publications, either directly through the Ministry of Information or via joint ventures with private companies.[116] Hopes that the NLD would increase the editorial independence of state-controlled media and joint-venture media outlets have evaporated.[117]

The government sometimes claims to use the Facebook pages of the Ministry of Information,[118] the State Counsellor Office,[119] and the Information Committee,[120] to provide the public with “unbiased” information to combat “fake” reports from international media, often relating to the Rohingya people and conflict.

Manipulated progovernment content has become pervasive online, particularly on Facebook.[121] The military published inflammatory content regularly on Facebook before being banned by the platform in 2018 (see B2).[122] According to multiple sources, nearly 700 military officials were involved in a systematic campaign of disinformation for five years, creating and managing fake Facebook accounts and pages, which were then used to share false, misleading, and inciting content. Organized troll accounts allegedly helped spread the content to reach more users.[123] In 2019, Facebook banned a number of pages and accounts for engaging in “inauthentic coordinated behavior,” some of which were allegedly run by persons associated with the military .[124]

Hard-liners who spread derogatory and violent statements about the Rohingya on Facebook, Viber, and WhatsApp, among other social media platforms, have widened their targets to include other marginalized groups. Before being banned by Facebook, the ultranationalist monk Wirathu regularly spread disinformation and false narratives through his posts and videos that were shared by thousands of followers, and which according to critics, have stoked real-world violence.[125][126] He has compared Muslims to mad dogs and shared images of corpses with text claiming they were Buddhists murdered by Muslims.[127] In 2019 and 2020, false or hateful information has targeted Rohingya, Muslims, women, Rakhine, and others including journalists and activists.[128] Civil society activists are concerned that this will increase in the run-up to the 2020 general elections.[129]

Alongside propaganda, unintentional misinformation reflecting poor digital literacy or a lack of available and trustworthy information has spread.

2018 2019 2020
B6: Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? (0–3 points) 1 1 1

A number of laws contain provisions that can place regulatory constraints on users wishing to publish content online. While the provision has not been invoked to date, the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law created a licensing regime for publishing houses, news agencies, and websites, and outlets must register prior to producing content, including for publishing online.[130] The law also contains a variety of vague and overly broad administrative and criminal sanctions for offenses, which include running a website without a license. Licenses can be revoked by the government at any time.

The Telecommunications Law has no specific regulations relating to net neutrality, zero-rating data transmissions by apps or telecommunications providers, or open internet policy.

2018 2019 2020
B7: Does the online information landscape lack diversity? (0–4 points) 1 1 1

Government and military control over public discourse and the media has significantly restricted the diversity of viewpoints online (see B5). Despite Facebook’s removal of several official military accounts and pages (see B2), the military’s messaging on certain issues, including on the Rohingya conflict and minority groups, have continued to monopolize the online narrative. These viewpoints are presented on state-controlled broadcast media, and then feed into the public narrative on Facebook. Such content is then spread through users with military backgrounds or other promilitary accounts.[131]

The state’s censorship efforts have also affected the diversity of online content produced by independent sources. For example, in 2019 the military requested that the media refrain from saying “civil war” when referring to domestic conflict.[132] In 2017, the government ordered that all media use the term “terrorist” instead of “insurgent” or “militant” when referring to the Rohingya crisis.[133] Also in 2017, the BBC announced that it would end its broadcasting partnership with MNTV after the network repeatedly pulled BBC programs for using “government restricted words,” which included the word “Rohingya,” according to some analysts.[134] In June 2018, Radio Free Asia (RFA) cancelled its partnership with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) after the government repeatedly attempted to censor the word “Rohingya” on state television.[135] RFA, however, reported that it would still cover Myanmar on social media.[136]

During the reporting period, the most-visited websites in Myanmar were Google, YouTube, and Facebook.[137] However, few people use internet browsers, with most users preferring Facebook apps on their mobile phones. The most popular Facebook pages were all run by media outlets, some of which were foreign and none of which were state-controlled.[138]

2018 2019 2020
B8: Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? (0–6 points) 4 4 4

Online tools used to assemble and mobilize remain freely available. Individuals continued to use the internet for activism, some of which has been successful. Many within civil society regard Facebook—more so than the mainstream media—as the best tool to raise awareness about their concerns and prompt a government response. Their efforts have been constrained during the reporting period, however, as Facebook’s restrictions on ethnic armed organizations, the military, and ultranationalist groups have impacted public discourse (see B2 and B3).

One of the largest campaigns online during the coverage period was demand for a proper criminal investigation for Victoria, a child sexually abused in a private nursery in the capital city, Naypyidaw.[139] The grassroots movement grew organically and garnered massive social media coverage, including a large number of users who changed their profile pictures.

During the coverage period, online campaigning under the #StopInternetShutdownMM was combined with offline protests to call for an ending to the shutdowns in Rakhine and Chin States.[140] In February 2020, nine students were arrested for participating in a peaceful, offline protest against the connectivity restrictions that took place without the necessary government permission.[141] In June 2020, after the coverage period, civil society groups organized a virtual protest marking the one year anniversary since connectivity was shut off.[142] Six activists were also arrested in June for their involvement in an offline protest against the shutdown, which included hanging a banner. They were charged under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for organizing without notifying the police.[143] In September 2020, one of the activists, Maung Saungkha, was convicted and was fined 30,000 kyats ($22.50) fine, in lieu of spending 15 days in prison.[144]

In 2018, when the military leader Min Aung Hlaing, claimed that the military was more representative of the people than the elected government, a public outcry swept through Facebook with the slogan, “The military doesn’t represent me!”[145] After Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were imprisoned in September 2018, Facebook profile pictures were replaced with black spots, representing blacked-out websites, and #ArrestMeToo trended on Twitter and Facebook.[146] In another example, the 2017 #SayNOto66d campaign[147] expanded in late 2018 to focus on decriminalizing defamation altogether.[148]

Some of the most significant online activism has been in response to the plight of the Rohingya. Pro-Rohingya digital activists have used social media to strengthen networks within the Rohingya community, including among the diaspora, while simultaneously reaching out to other supporters.[149] Social media has been invaluable for sharing videos, photos, and testimonies of sexual violence, looting, torture, and murder,[150] which mainstream media outlets have largely ignored.

C. Violations of User Rights

Criminalization of internet users persisted, including under several criminal defamation laws, while the government has hinted that a draft cybersecurity law could contain provisions punishing online criticism of the government. Intimidation of users remains common, through online surveillance carried out by the government and military. Individuals reporting on or discussing conflicts in Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin States online, and users discussing gender and other so-called “sensitive” issues, experience harassment.

2018 2019 2020
C1: Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independ-ence? (0–6 points) 1 1 1

The constitution and other laws in Myanmar fail to protect human rights online. The current constitution, drafted by the military government and approved in a flawed 2008 referendum, states that “enhancing the eternal principles of justice, liberty, and equality” is one of the country’s six objectives.[151] The constitution also provides specific—but highly limited—guarantees for citizens to “express and publish their convictions and opinions”[152] and “freely develop literature, culture, arts, customs, and traditions,”[153] provided that they are “not contrary to the laws enacted for Union [of Myanmar] security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.”[154] The constitution includes no provisions directly relating to the internet or access to information, although Article 96 and Schedule 1 (8.m) bestow in parliament the authority to establish laws regulating the internet. In February 2019, the government established a joint parliamentary committee to recommend constitutional amendments to address access to the internet and information.[155] Later that year a coalition of civil society organizations put forward their demands relating to freedom of expression.[156] The committee’s final recommendations did not include any substantive changes to human rights or internet freedom in particular.

Fair trial rights are often violated in Myanmar’s courts: the accused often have no effective representation, they receive limited access to court documents, and judges are inattentive during proceedings.[157] Trials relating to online activity commonly include significant procedural errors, technically unreliable evidence, and deep-seated judicial unwillingness to consult expert testimony.[158] In many cases, courts have been presented with easily forgeable printouts of digital content, or have ruled without testing the authenticity, reliability, or admissibility of evidence.[159]

Judicial independence is impeded by interference. Judges are nominated by the president, and lawmakers can reject the choice only if it is clearly proven that the nominee does not meet the legal qualifications for the post. The courts generally adjudicate cases in accordance with the government’s interests, particularly in major cases with political implications.

A number of laws target online media freedom. A 2018 amendment to the Broadcasting Law failed to clarify the country’s transfer from analog broadcasting to digital, which created an arbitrary process that could be misused by the government to control broadcasters and online media.[160] In 2018, the Myanmar Press Council, an independent body that settles disputes involving the media, submitted to the government a proposed amendment of the 2014 News Media Law, which regulates digital media. Whether this proposal will positively or negatively affect media freedom is unclear.[161] A draft of a right to information law first proposed in 2017 had not yet passed as of May 2020.[162] Instead, it has been undermined by new information related laws and drafts. In December 2019, the National Records and Archives Law was adopted, limiting access to information and retaining secretive standards for government documents, including electronic documents, while further criminalizing the sharing of them.[163]

  2018 2019 2020
C2: Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities? (0–4 points) 0 0 0

Several laws explicitly penalize online activity and have been used to imprison internet users. The Telecommunications Law was drafted by the former government in 2013 with the support of the World Bank,[164] and is the primary framework for licensing telecommunications providers, including mobile service providers and ISPs. Although the law was welcomed by many stakeholders as a sign of much-needed change,[165] the former government added a number of troubling provisions, including Article 66(d)—a vaguely worded content provision criminalizing a range of acts online, including defamation—and Article 68, which criminalizes “communication, reception, sending, distribution, or sharing of incorrect information with dishonest intention.”[166]

Under public pressure about the number of prosecutions for online activity, the NLD government rushed through an amendment to Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law to ameliorate the issue in 2017. However, the amendment was drafted without proper civil society consultation and was roundly condemned as insufficient.[167] Positive changes in the amendment include a reduction of the maximum prison sentence for violations from three years to two years, the opportunity for the accused to be released on bail, and restrictions on who can file a case. However, the amendment did not define defamation and did not alter provisions that outlaw “extort[ing], defam[ing], disturb[ing], or intimidat[ing]” over a telecommunications network.[168] Civil society activists have argued that the amendment has made no discernible impact on cases brought forward after the amendment was enacted.[169]

The penal code can also be used to imprison internet users. Section 505(a) criminalizes speech “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such.”[170] Section 505(b) outlaws speech “likely to cause fear or alarm in the public.”[171]

The Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, which was enacted in 2017 and widely condemned by civil society for being debated and passed without proper consultation, provides for prison terms of up to three years for defamation.[172] The law has been used to prosecute individuals for online activity (see C3).

The previous government amended but failed to repeal the 2004 Electronic Transaction Law (ETL) in 2013, which criminalized “any act detrimental to” state security, law and order, community peace and tranquility, national solidarity, the national economy, or the national culture—including “receiving or sending” information. The law was routinely used to criminalize internet activism during military rule. In 2014, Thaung Tin, a senior government official, acknowledged the need to address repressive laws like the ETL and the Computer Science and Development Law, which criminalizes unauthorized use of a computer with a “fax-modem card.”[173] The government announced plans to revise the ETL in 2014, but no draft legislation has since been announced.[174]

Several draft laws that could affect rights online were considered during the coverage period. In 2019, the government commissioned consultants to assist in developing a new cybersecurity law.[175] Initial drafts of the framework have been shared confidentially with a handful of civil society groups, but the legislation remained at an early stage of development at the end of the coverage period.[176] The government has stated that the new framework will include provisions penalizing those who “insult the country and people and commit crimes over any communications network.”[177] Human rights defenders have expressed concern that the framework, like other restrictive laws governing online activity in recent years, would be vague, overly broad, and used to punish a range of online behaviors.[178]

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government put forward a draft Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases bill in February 2020. The bill includes a provision that imposes fines, and potentially a six-month prison term, for health officials that disseminate certain health information during specified times that could cause fear or panic.[179] Authorities claim the drafted law seeks to prevent causing public panic or the spread of intentionally false information. As of August 2020, the bill remained in draft form.

The Trademark Law adopted in January 2019 penalizes trademark infringement and counterfeiting with up to three years imprisonment and a fine of approximately 5 million kyats ($3,300).[180] It was adopted alongside the Patent Law and the Industrial Design Law, which also include criminal sanctions for violations.[181] In May 2019, a copyright law that includes prison terms of up to three years for commercial copying without consent was adopted.[182]

After a series of leaked draft laws criminalizing “hate speech” received significant criticism from civil society, the process of developing a law has largely been done in secret and a bill has not yet been put before parliament.[183] The government claims that consultations with civil society regarding the bill have occurred,[184] but several well-known civil society organizations working on the issue have refuted these assertions and have received no responses to their requests for meetings with parliament.[185] The government issued in April 2020 a Directive on the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred and Violence ordering officials to address the issue of hate speech.[186]The directive came in advance of a reporting deadline set by the International Court of Justice.

  2018 2019 2020
C3: Are individuals penalized for online activities? (0–6 points) 1 1 1

Internet users are frequently prosecuted in Myanmar’s restrictive online environment. In 2019, there were more than 49 criminal cases under the Telecommunications Law and 37 cases under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens,[187] with hundreds of cases being brought in total against social media users.[188] Many plaintiffs in the cases were affiliated with the state, including public officials, NLD party officials, and military officers, while many of the accused were activists, online journalists, or other civil society representatives.[189] Most cases have resulted in guilty verdicts with six-month prison sentences.[190]

In February 2020, Kay Khine Tun, Paing Phyo Min, and Su Yadanar Myint of the poetry troupe Peacock Generation were sentenced to six-months in prison under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for sharing images of and livestreaming their performance satirizing the military on social media.[191] In December 2019, four members of the group were also sentenced to six months in prison under Article 66(d).[192]

In March 2020, a Yangon court agreed to hear the military’s criminal defamation complaint under Article 66(d) against the editor of independent news outlet The Irrawaddy, citing its coverage of clashes between the Arakan Army and the military in Rakhine. [193] The complaint was originally brought in April 2019.

A previous Article 66(d) case against the Myanmar Now editor, Swe Win, filed by supporters of a Buddhist ultranationalist group,[194]was dismissed in July 2019. However, a court accepted an appeal to this dismissal in August 2019, which has had chilling effects.[195]Swe Win was originally arrested in July 2017 for a Facebook post criticizing Wirathu,[196] and was forced to travel 600 kilometers from his home to the court more than 55 times, usually for a session that lasted just minutes.[197]

Internet users were convicted under the penal code during the coverage period. In May 2020, editor Zaw Ye Htet of online news agency, Dae Pyaw, was sentenced to two years imprisonment under Article 505(b), after publishing a story about a COVID-19 death in Karen State, which official numbers from the government contradict.[198] In August 2019, filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was sentenced to one year in prison under Article 505(a) for a series of Facebook posts critical of the Myanmar military.[199] He had been held in detention since April 2019 and was released in February 2020.

Local activists have also identified at least 33 people—including activists, journalists, politicians, and members of the public—who have been charged under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens for posting criticism on social media.[200] For example in November 2019, six ethnic-minority activists were each sentenced to six months imprisonment under the law’s criminal defamation provision Article 8(f), for signing a statement criticizing a government official.[201] During the previous coverage period in September 2018, Facebook user Aung Ko Ko Lwin was sentenced to one year imprisonment for Facebook posts criticizing a state chief minister, under Article 8(f). [202] He was originally arrested in January 2018.[203]

In March 2020, chief editor of Voice of Myanmar U Nay Myo Lin was arrested and charged for allegedly violating the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law after interviewing a spokesperson for Arakan Army, which was labelled an unlawful and terrorist organization by the government days before.[204] Police later confirmed they would not pursue the case.[205]

In May 2019, during the previous coverage period, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were pardoned after being imprisoned more than 500 days following their September 2018 convictions for reporting on the massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys.[206] The journalists had been sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act.[207] They were originally detained in December 2017. In June and July 2018, the journalists’ defense lawyers informed the court that they had been tortured while in custody (see C7). In March 2020, the military filed and later withdrew a criminal defamation case against Reuters for a January 2020 story citing the military artillery fire that killed two Rohingya women.[208]

In September 2018, during the previous coverage period, Ngar Min Swe, a former columnist for a state media outlet, was convicted of sedition and sentenced to seven years in prison after he posted “abusive” Facebook posts about Aung San Suu Kyi.[209] His posts included sexist remarks about Suu Kyi after she received a kiss on the cheek from former US president Obama when he visited the country.

2018 2019 2020
C4: Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communi-cation or encryption? (0–4 points) 3 3 3

Users’ ability to communicate anonymously is limited by the government’s enforcement of SIM card registration requirements.[210]Since 2017, subscribers must provide their name, citizenship identification document, birth date, address, nationality, and gender to register for a SIM card;[211] noncitizens must provide their passports. Some subscribers have reported being required by telecommunications companies to include further information beyond the bounds of the regulations, including their ethnicity.[212] Mytel reported in February 2020 that only 30 percent of subscribers had registered.[213] The MoTC order has resulted in over six million SIM cards being suspended or blocked as of February 2020.[214] Amid COVID-19, the MoTC ordered telecommunications providers to bar outgoing calls for the millions of unregistered SIM cards, starting in April 2020.[215] At the end of June 2020, after the coverage period, unregistered SIM cards were reportedly deactivated, with the corresponding phone numbers expected to be deleted and subscriber money forfeited.

In March 2019, the government also asked mobile service providers to limit each user to two SIM cards in order to protect “personal and national security.”[216] It is unclear how this is being implemented by providers.

Over the course of the coverage period, the government indicated its interest in requiring biometric sim card registration. In November 2019, authorities released a tender to create a database that can store up to 70 million records of biometric data received from mobile registration.[217] In June 2020, the government announced that it was continuing with the project and had requisitioned the Universal Service Fund, which was intended to support marginalized areas to access mobile telecoms, to pay for the biometric database.[218]

Although its provisions have not yet been implemented for web-only media outlets, the Printing and Publishing Law (2014) could potentially be used to prohibit anonymously run websites (see B6).[219]

There are no clear restrictions on encryption, although vague provisions in the Telecommunications Law and the Electronic Transactions Law could be interpreted to restrict the practice. Civil society activists are also concerned that the draft cybersecurity law could restrict encryption (see C2).[220]

2018 2019 2020
C5: Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? (0–6 points) 2 2 2

Despite the fact that Article 357 of the constitution includes protection for private communications, government surveillance remains a serious concern. State surveillance of internet activities using sophisticated technology remains in its infancy in Myanmar because authorities continue to employ more invasive and direct methods to infringe on users’ privacy. The police frequently confiscate the mobile phones of those facing allegations of online criminal activity without a warrant, particularly human rights defenders, political activists, and journalists.[221] The police reportedly demand passwords for social media accounts and other applications from suspects, including in cases where allegations are unrelated to social media use.[222] For example, shortly after Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested (see C3), the police were accused of using Wa Lone’s confiscated phone to send a WhatsApp message on his account.[223] The police used the Israeli phone-breaching product known as Cellebrite to collect data from the journalists’ smartphones.[224] Cellebrite technology has been used by the police since 2016, and although the company ceased selling its products in Myanmar in late 2018, authorities continue to employ the technology. The revelations about Cellebrite also raised concerns about police accessing the journalists’ social media accounts. In 2019, FinSpy malware from the German Gamma Group was reported to be in operation in Myanmar.[225] It is unclear who purchased the spyware.

In February 2018, Myanmar’s parliament approved the creation of the Social Media Monitoring Team (SMMT), which was later established under the MoTC.[226] The government argued that the SMMT was necessary to counter those causing instability online, including through hate speech and defamation.[227] Public statements by senior government officials in May 2018 articulated that the SMMT’s mandate focused narrowly on targeting foreigners and foreign organizations that cause unrest and threaten the country’s sovereignty through interference.[228] Other analysts have suggested that, given Myanmar’s broader political context, the SMMT was established to surveil foreign activists (including activists from Myanmar who operate outside the country or lack citizenship), foreign media outlets, and international organizations that focus on the Rohingya and other conflicts in Myanmar, as well as the International Criminal Court and other international bodies pushing for accountability for the atrocities against the Rohingya.

The SMMT was widely criticized by civil society organizations.[229] Despite the criticism, the SMMT was awarded an initial grant of approximately $4.8 million,[230] which it has reportedly used to purchase surveillance technology.[231] The scale and sophistication of the technology is unclear,[232] and the government has refused to reveal from which country the equipment was purchased, citing security concerns.[233] As of May 2020, no information has been shared regarding the SMMT’s powers and responsibilities, relationship with law enforcement and the courts, or any potential safeguards such as independent judicial oversight. Little is known about the body’s operations or whether there is any oversight.[234]

The MoTC has announced its intention to build a data center that would serve as a secure base for its planned e-government services in Naypyidaw, and in December 2018 the ministry requested that the parliament approve a $95 million loan from South Korea to fund it.[235][236] The Mandalay regional government launched its data center in January 2019 to provide e-government services.[237]Concerns have been raised that the data centers will lack adequate privacy and security safeguards.[238]

2018 2019 2020
C6: Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communi-cations of their users? (0–6 points) 1 1 1

Service providers are increasingly concerned about protecting private data, given the ease with which the government can request it without proper oversight or appeals mechanisms.[239] International companies have also come under pressure; for example, a well-regarded NLD member of parliament has called for WhatsApp to monitor suspicious messages between users.[240]

The Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, passed in 2017, prohibits the interception of personal communications without a warrant, but contains a vague exception allowing surveillance if permission is granted by the president or a government body.[241] The law does not outline clear procedures to prevent data from being collected and stored, nor does it provide for judicial review. Critics argue that the law’s definition of privacy is inadequate and inconsistent with international human rights standards.[242] In early 2020, an amendment was proposed that would make certain offenses bailable under the law but it has not yet been adopted.[243] Other privacy-related laws demanded by a range of private sector and civil society stakeholders, including a robust data protection law, have not yet been proposed.[244]

The Telecommunications Law grants the government the power to direct unspecified persons “to secure any information or communication which may harm security, rule of law, or peace of the state.”[245] The provision stating that any interception should not “hurt the fundamental rights of citizens” is an inadequate safeguard against abuse.[246] The Telecommunications Law also grants the government the power to inspect the premises of telecommunications license holders, as well as to require them to hand over documents, for the ambiguous purposes of defending the “security of the state or for the benefit of the people,” without safeguards for individuals’ privacy and other human rights.[247] A 2018 amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law includes a new provision requiring telecommunications providers to disclose user information without due process.[248] There are no requirements for judicial review.

The largest state-owned telecommunications provider, Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), has not publicized the number of requests for data they receive from authorities. Telenor announced that in 2019 it received 188 requests for communications data, about triple the number received in 2018, and complied with 88.[249] Mytel stated that it had received over 100 requests from the police for user data during 2019.[250] Both claimed that the majority of requests were related to human trafficking, missing people, and drugs.[251] The content of these requests are unclear. One major provider stated that it initially required three documents before disclosing information, including a letter from a senior police officer and a letter from the PTD, but has in practice dropped the requirement for a court warrant.[252]

  2018 2019 2020
C7: Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities? (0–5 points) 1 1 2

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 due to fewer instances of physical violence reported in retribution for online activities.

Online journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists continue to report intimidation and threats of violence. In one opinion survey published in May 2020, most journalists reported that they believed violence against members of the media had increased compared to the previous year.[253] Violence and threats of violence were particularly common for journalists and activists reporting in conflict areas or communicating online about sensitive political issues such as the Rohingya crisis.[254]

Journalists reporting on the Rohingya crisis or covering the Rakhine State and Shan State conflicts feel particularly targeted.[255] During the trial of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, defense lawyers informed the court that the journalists were tortured in detention.[256] In July 2018, Kyaw Soe Oo told the court that he was subjected to sleep deprivation and forced to kneel for hours while he was interrogated.[257] He also said that authorities covered his head with a black hood. In 2017, Kyaw Lin, a journalist in Rakhine State who contributes to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and is the editor-in-chief of the local outlet ROMA Time, was stabbed by two men on motorbikes.[258]

Human rights defenders also face intimidation and violence. The scale and volume of threats against human rights defenders, all of whom use the internet as their principal tool for advocacy, varies depending on the “sensitivity” of the issue they focus on in their work. Pro-Rohingya and peace activists report high levels of intimidation via direct and indirect messages and comments online.[259]Allegations of torture have also been made against police, prison guards, and border guards by student activists,[260] monks,[261] and others.[262] The government has itself perpetuated threats; in February 2019, a member of parliament threatened to take legal action against those who “damage the dignity” of the country by working with the United Nations.[263] In Myanmar, high-profile women and female human rights defenders report regular gender-based intimidation and threats of violence.[264] Common harassment tactics include cyberstalking, phishing, hacking, and attempts to cast doubt on women’s credibility, integrity, and character. Many are intimidated through doctored sexual or intimate images, which are sometimes used in attempts to blackmail women.

A significant number of internet users have reported experiencing cyberbullying, particularly those in marginalized groups including young women, religious minorities, and the LGBT+ community.[265]

2018 2019 2020
C8: Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? (0–3 points) 1 1 1

Websites, Facebook accounts, and email are periodically subjected to technical attacks in Myanmar. In 2017, websites for the Ministry of Culture, the Central Bank, and Maubin University, in addition to some private webpages, were hacked and populated with messages saying “Stop Killing Muslims.”[266] The hacks were allegedly carried out by Turkish activists raising their concerns about the treatment of the Rohingya.[267]

Human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists continue to report regular, often weekly, remote attempts to hack their email and Facebook accounts.[268] Digital activists in Myanmar note that Google regularly warns them of “government-backed attackers” attempting to hack their Google products.[269] Pro-Rohingya and Muslim activists are among those who report frequent hacking attempts.[270] Police use sophisticated technology to hack into the devices of journalists, including Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in 2017.[271] Advanced spyware has been identified in Myanmar,[272] and human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists report the use of spyware installed on their mobile phones (see C5).[273]

Microsoft has raised concerns about the large number of computers and devices in Myanmar that are infected by viruses and malware.[274] Kaspersky reported in 2019 that Myanmar comes in fourth globally for the highest rates of viruses at 60 percent of computers and removeable media.[275] Browser modifiers are twice as common in Myanmar than the global average, and software bundlers are almost three times more common. Microsoft has also raised concerns about the number of infections of the worm Win/Macoute that spreads to USB drives, which are very common in Myanmar, and communicate the drive’s content to a remote host.[276]

[1] The number of internet users was reported in June 2019 at 18m by Internet World Stats, see “Internet Usage in Asia,” Internet World Stats, [n.d.],; A report on Myanmar in February 2020 by Hootsuite identified that this number had grown to 22m users by the beginning of 2020, see Simon Kemp, “Digital 2020: Myanmar,” Datareportal, February 18, 2020,; 39 percent of the population and a growth of 1m persons over the course of the year.

[2] James Barton, “Ooredoo Myanmar and MPT step up 4G offerings,” Developing Telecoms, June 6, 2017,

[3] Khine Kyaw, “Myanmar to accelerate 5G development despite risks,” Eleven Media Group, December 19, 2018,

[4] One index rates the percentage of the population using the internet as 33.1 percent in 2019 as compared to 51.8 percent for the Asia region, see “Internet Usage in Asia,” Internet World Stats, [n.d.],; Others rate Myanmar as 39 percent, South-East Asia as 63 percent, and Asia as 52 percent, see “The Global State of Digital in 2019 Report,” Hootsuite, [n.d], accessed on October 2, 2019,

[5] Myanmar is 81st in the world for mobile speeds and 119th for fixed line speeds, see “Speedtest Global Index,” Ookla® Speed Test, accessed March, 2020,

[6] “Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” Ookla® Speedtest Global Index, [n.d.],

[7] “ICT Development Index 2017 – Myanmar,” International Telecommunications Union (ITU), [n.d.],

[8] Simon Kemp, “Digital 2020: Myanmar,” Datareportal, February 18, 2020,

[9] The regional average is 135%. See “Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018, and Simon Kemp, “Digital 2020: Myanmar,” Datareportal, February 18, 2020,

[10] Subscribers number 129% of the population size, as people often have multiple SIM cards, see “GSMA Intelligence,” accessed October 2, 2019,; “The Global State of Digital in 2019 Report,” Hootsuite, [n.d],; “Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018,; 50% is the number of unique owners, which means that each unique owner owns two sim cards on average. This has increased from about 34% in 2016, see “ICT Development Index 2017,” International Telecommunications Union (ITU), [n.d.],

[11] Michael Peel, “Myanmar blackouts recall darker days,” Financial Times, June 6, 2017,

[12] “Switzerland Joins EU in Sanctioning Myanmar’s Military Generals,” The Irrawaddy, October 18, 2018,

[13] Thomas Kean, “Myanmar’s broadband price war,” Frontier Myanmar, April 23, 2018,

[14] The average cost of data in Myanmar is comparatively low however when compared to other countries on the cheapest data packages available Myanmar is comparatively expensive. For example, the average cost of 1 GB is $1.49 in Cambodia and $0.87 in Myanmar, but in Cambodia data packages can reduce that to $0.17 per 1 GB whereas in Myanmar the cheapest package is $0.65, see “Worldwide mobile data pricing: The cost of 1GB of mobile data in 230 countries,” Cable, [n.d.],

[15] The average broadband cost has dropped in Yangon from $72.31 per month in 2017 to $36.82 in 2020, see “Compare our best broadband deals,” Cable, [n.d.],

[16] “Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018,

[17] Thiha Ko Ko, “Govt draft roadmap to develop and support digital economy in Myanmar,” Myanmar Times, March 14, 2019,; “Myanmar Digital Economy Roadmap,” Digital Economy Development Committee, February 2019,

[18] President Office of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, “Vice President U Henry Van Thio discusses digital economy development,” January 12, 2019,

[19] Digital Economy Development Committee – DEDC, @dedc.myanmar,

[20] 5.6GB as compared to 1.2GB, see “Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018,

[21] The percentage of households with a computer was 13.64 percent in 2017, 11 percent in 2016, compared to 37.8 percent on average for the Asia Pacific region. The percentage of households with internet access was 24.38 percent in 2017, 20 percent in 2016, compared to an average of 45.5 percent for the Asia Pacific region, see “ICT Development Index 2017 – Myanmar,” International Telecommunications Union (ITU), [n.d.],

[22] Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Government to collect tax to fund telecoms in rural areas,” Myanmar Times, April 24, 2018,

[23] Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Government to collect tax to fund telecoms in rural areas,” Myanmar Times, April 24, 2018,

[24] Thompson Chau, “Myanmar diverts special telecoms fund to biometrics database,” Myanmar Times, June 11, 2020,

[25] In 2019, women were 15 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone. Only 35 percent of women had used the internet on their mobile phone, see “The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019,” Mobile for Development, GSM Association, February 20, 2019,; Htet Shine, “Key findings: Myanmar Living Conditions Survey 2017,” Myanmar Times, July 5, 2018,; Katie Bartholomew and Rebecca Calder, “Myanmar Landscaping Report,” Kantar Public Myanmar and SPRING Accelerator, October 2018,

[26] “The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019,” Mobile for Development, GSM Association, February 20, 2019,

[27] An online campaign was started to monitor and track the shutdown, see Facebook account: အင်တာနက်ဖြတ်တောက်မှု ရပ်, @StopInternetShutDownMM,; “Myanmar: Internet Shutdown Risks Lives,” Human Rights Watch, June 28, 2019,; Thompson Chau, “Protesters demand end to internet blackout in Rakhine,” Myanmar Times, December 25, 2019,

[28] Phil Robertson, “Myanmar Again Cuts Rakhine State’s Internet,” Human Rights Watch, February 5, 2020,

[29] “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Interactive Dialogue with the Human Rights Council,” United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner, March 10, 2020, and “Civil society marks 1-year of world’s longest internet shutdown,” Free Expression Myanmar, June 21, 2020,

[30] See for example the discussion on Free Expression Myanmar, @FreeExpressionMyanmar, March 4, 2020,; The cost after six months was predicted at $75m: Samuel Woodhams and Simon Migliano, “The Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019,” Top 10 VPN, January 7, 2020,

[31] Myat Thura, “Govt defends internet shutdown in Rakhine,” Myanmar Times, February 24, 2020,; “Internet ban will be lifted if peace and stability is restored: Deputy Minister,” Eleven Media Group, February 9, 2020,

[32] Andrew Nachemson and Lun Min Mang, “Fighting in Rakhine, Chin states rages as Myanmar limits internet,” Al Jazeera, March 5, 2020,

[33] Thomas Kean, “Myanmar’s broadband price war,” Frontier Myanmar, April 23, 2018,

[34] Dylan Bushell-Embling, “Myanmar to use Intelsat 39 satellite,”, June 4, 2018,

[35] Khine Kyaw, “Myanmar to accelerate 5G development despite risks,” Eleven Media Group, December 19, 2018,

[36] “Campana Announces Commercial Availability of International Gateway Services via its Trans-ASEAN Network,” EIN Presswire, December 14, 2017,

[37] Thomas Kean, “Myanmar’s broadband price war,” Frontier Myanmar, April 23, 2018,; Paul Mah, “Campana Group, Telin Singapore to connect Singapore and Myanmar,” Data Center Dynamics, September 24, 2018,

[38] “Myanmar to launch satellite in 2019,” Myanmar Times, October 23, 2017,

[39] “MCRB provides initial comments to government on the draft cybersecurity framework, and discusses cybersecurity with MPs,” Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, February 4, 2019,; Htoo Thant, “Japan helps Myanmar to enact cybersecurity law,” Myanmar Times, January 15, 2019,

[40] Thomas Kean, “Myanmar’s broadband price war,” Frontier Myanmar, April 23, 2018,

[41] Ankit Sawhney and Charu Paliwal, “Intelligence Brief: Where does Myanmar stand today?,” GSM Association via Mobile World Live, December 4, 2019,; Mytel has announced its intention to invest $1.5billion to build a 4G network and 7,200 towers, see Joseph Waring, “Myanmar $G newcomers ready to roll,” Mobile World Live, February 14, 2018,; Telenor, in comparison, had 7,800 towers in 2017, see “Annual Report 2017,” Telenor, April 2018,

[42] MyTel is jointly owned by Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public Co Ltd (23 percent), Star High Public Co Ltd (28 percent), and Viettel Global (49 percent). Star High is a subsidiary of the military-run Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). Viettel Global is owned by the Vietnam Ministry of Defense, see Kyaw Phone Kyaw, “Fourth telco MyTel to start selling SIM cards in March,” Myanmar Times, February 14, 2018,

[43] Aung Kyaw Nyunt and Pyae Thet Phyo, “Myanmar’s fourth telco gets licence at last,” Myanmar Times, January 13, 2017,

[44] U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Designates Burmese State-Owned Enterprises,” July 29, 2008,; Shibani Mahtani and Richard C. Paddock, “‘Cronies’ of Former Myanmar Regime Thrive Despite U.S. Blacklist,” Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2015,; Michael Peel, “Myanmar: the military-commercial complex,“ Financial Times, February 1, 2017,

[45] San Yamin Aung, “Launch of Army-Backed Mytel Draws Wary Welcome,” The Irrawaddy, June 14, 2018,

[46] Simon Marks, “EU weighs new sanctions against Myanmar over Rohingya,” Politico, August 9, 2018,

[47] San Yamin Aung, “New Telecom Firm Mytel Transmits First Call,” The Irrawaddy, February 13, 2018,

[48] Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020,

[49] 69 percent of Ooredoo is owned by the Qatar government and related entities, see “Ooredoo Q.P.S.C.: Group Structure and Presence,” Ooredoo, July 2018,; 54 percent of Telenor is owned by the state of Norway, see “Major Shareholdings,” Telenor, June 30, 2019,

[50] Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020,

[51] Kang Wan Chern, “Amara Communications to launch 4G+ data-only service,” Myanmar Times, March 2, 2018,

[52] Joseph Waring, “Myanmar 4G newcomers ready to roll,” Mobile World Live, February 14, 2018,

[53] Even at the last moment, MPs attempted to derail the process of giving out licences, see Gwen Robinson, “Myanmar telco auction: the good and the bad,” Financial Times, June 27, 2013,

[54] Anonymous source with direct experience, June 15, 2020.

[55] “Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018,

[56] Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Yangon warns telecoms to get proper permits,” Myanmar Times, December 4, 2017,

[57] Chester Toh and Jainil Bhandari, “Myanmar: The Legal Landscape,” Getting the Deal Through, November 2018,

[58] Andrew Nachemson and Lun Min Mang, “Fighting in Rakhine, Chin states rages as Myanmar limits internet,” Al Jazeera, March 5, 2020,

[59] Discussions with participants at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon on January 18, 2019.

[60] Namali Premawardhana, “Myanmar forges ahead in ICT,” Myanmar Times, December 18, 2017,

[61] Discussions with experts at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum on January 18, 2019.

[62] “Facebook accuses telecoms groups of disinformation tactics,” Financial Times, February 12, 2020,; See the original announcement at Nathaniel Gleicher, “Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior From Russia, Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar,” Facebook, February 12, 2020,

[63] “Facebook removes network of fake accounts promoting military-backed telecom with $1.2m misinformation campaign,” Myanmar Now, February 14, 2020,

[64] Feedback from human rights defenders working on digital rights in Yangon, Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, January 2018,

[65] Discussions with digital rights activist in Yangon, March 2019.

[66] Zaw Zaw Htwe and Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Critics rail against govt budget for monitoring of Facebook,” Myanmar Times, March 22, 2018,

[67] Chan Thar and Aung Nyein Chan, “ရခိုင်သတင်းဌာန ၂ ခု၊ AA တို့၏ ဝက်ဘ်ဆိုက်များကို ဖုန်းအော်ပရေတာ ၂ ခုက ပိတ် [Two Rakhine news outlets; AA websites blocked by two phone operators],” Myanmar Now, March 26, 2020,

[68] “Gov’t Blocks Ethnic Media Groups From Mobile Networks,” BNI Multimedia Group, April 1, 2020,

[69] “Blocking of 230 websites in Myanmar based on directive from the authorities,” Telenor, April 22, 2020,

[70] Yangon, “Blocking of 230 websites in Myanmar based on directive from the authorities,” Telenor, April 22, 2020,

[71] Chan Thar and Aung Nyein Chan, “Telenor reverses stance, blocks ethnic news media amid crackdown on journalists,” Myanmar Now, April 2, 2020,

[72] “Directive from authorities to block additional websites in Myanmar,” Telenor, May 7, 2020,

[73] Thompson Chau and John Liu, “Myanmar blocks website of rights group of Tatmadaw,” MMtimes, August 31, 2020,

[74] “250 organisations condemn Myanmar government order to block websites,” Free Expression Myanmar, April 2, 2020,

[75] Myanmar is still not included in Google’s transparency report, see “Government requests to remove content,” Google Transparency Report, accessed in March 2020,; Twitter’s data on information requests and removals has not been updated since June 2018 and Myanmar is not included, see “Removal requests,” Twitter Transparency, accessed in March 2020,

[76] “Facebook Transparency Report – Myanmar,” Facebook Transparency, accessed in July 2020,

[77] Tom Miles, “U.N. investigators cite Facebook role in Myanmar crisis,” Reuters, March 12, 2018,

[78] “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” Human Rights Council, March 5, 2019,; “WhatsApp the Media Platform of Choice for ARSA,” The Irrawaddy, June 12, 2018,; For example, the Minister for Information suggested in a June 2018 meeting with Facebook employees that the platform should control inciting or vulgar content. Meanwhile, the Minister for Religious and Cultural Affairs has been accused of spreading hate speech; “Facebook closes some accounts of Myanmar hard-liners,” The Nation Thailand, June 9, 2018,

[79] San Moe Tun [Kywe Wa Dana Tun], “Is Facebook’s bias a source of concern for Myanmar’s 2020 election?,” Eleven Media Group, February 11, 2020,; Win Naing, “Facebook’s Southeast Asia director talks about hate speech and the Myanmar elections,” Mizzima, March 9, 2020,

[80] See for example communications from US Senator Markey to Facebook: “Senator Markey: Facebook’s Efforts to Address Hate Speech in Burma Still Insufficient,” Ed Markey U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, March 14, 2019,

[81] See for example the discussions that took place during the 2020 Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon, 28-29 February. Also Hunter Marston, “The hate speech threat to the 2020 election,” Frontier, April 6, 2020,

[82] No clear information exists on exactly what Facebook removes and why. Civil society have noted increases in warnings, and Facebook employees have stated that such actions have increased dramatically over the past 18 months. For example, see discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon on January 19, 2019.

[83] “Removing Myanmar Military Officials From Facebook,” Facebook Newsroom, August 28, 2018,

[84] Hannah Ellis-Petersen, “Facebook removes accounts associated with Myanmar military,” The Guardian, August 27, 2018,

[85] “Facebook closes some accounts of Myanmar hard-liners,” The Nation Thailand, June 9, 2018,

[86] Nathaniel Gleicher, “Taking Down More Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in Myanmar,” Facebook, August 21, 2019,

[87] “Removing More Dangerous Organizations from Facebook in Myanmar,” Facebook NewsroomFebruary 5, 2019,

[88] “Myanmar’s media not free or fair,” Free Expression Myanmar, May 3, 2020,

[89] “Myanmar’s media not free or fair,” Free Expression Myanmar, 2020,

[90] Personal communication with the authors of an upcoming report on cyber harassment of women activists in Myanmar, Yangon, May 2018.

[91] See recent discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon, February 28-29, 2020.

[92] “Telecommunications Law – Law. No. 31/2013,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013,

[93] For example, Article 77 gives the government powers to stop or prohibit any type of communication.

[94] “Telecommunications Law – Law. No. 31/2013,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013,

[95] “Blocking of 230 websites in Myanmar based on directive from the authorities,” Telenor, April 22, 2020,

[96] Monika Bickert, “Publishing Our Internal Enforcement Guidelines and Expanding Our Appeals Process,” Facebook Newsroom, April 24, 2018,

[97] Discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon on January 19, 2019.

[98] “Why are posts by Rohingya activists getting deleted?,” BBC News, September 23, 2017,

[99] See for example the discussions that took place during the 2020 Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon, February 28-29. See also the case of San Moe Tun [Kywe Wa Dana Tun], “Is Facebook’s bias a source of concern for Myanmar’s 2020 election?,” Eleven Media Group, February 11, 2020, See also Julia Carrie Wong, Michael Safi, and Shaikh Azizur Rahman, “Facebook bans Rohingya group’s posts as minority faces ‘ethnic cleansing’,” The Guardian, September 20, 2017,

[100] Civil society has repeatedly stated that Facebook’s lack of transparency is a substantive concern, see “RSF calls for more Facebook transparency on Myanmar,” Reporters Without Borders, August 31, 2018,; Russel Brandom, “Activists from Myanmar and beyond call for Facebook to fix moderation,” The Verge, May 18, 2018,; Rebecca MacKinnon, “Facebook is part of an industry-wide problem: lack of transparency about policies affecting users’ online rights,” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [n.d.],; Timothy McLaughlin, “How Facebook’s Rise Fueled Chaos and Confusion in Myanmar,” Wired, June 7, 2018,; Dunstan Allison-Hope, “Our Human Rights Impact Assessment of Facebook in Myanmar,” Business for Social Responsibility, November 5, 2018,; Paul Mozur, “Groups in Myanmar Fire Back at Zuckerberg,” The New York Times, April 5, 2018,

[101] Discussions about the effectiveness of Facebook’s content moderation, Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, January 19, 2019.; Kyaw Ye Lynn and Su Myat Mon, “On social media, cleaning up isn’t easy,” Frontier, December 28, 2018,

[102] For example, some pro-Rohingya activists believe that content removal trends demonstrate prejudices among content reviewers against Rohingya.

[103] “Myanmar’s media freedom at risk,” Free Expression Myanmar, May 2018,; Hanna Ellis-Petersen, “Censorship and silence: south-east Asia suffers under press crackdown,” The Guardian, February 25, 2019,

[104] See for example panels on gender and on freedom of expression at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, February 28-29, 2020.

[105] Personal communications with human rights defenders working on digital rights, Yangon, May 2018.

[106] For example, recent discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, Yangon, January 18, 2019, and at the American Center, Yangon, May 22, 2019: U.S. Embassy Rangoon, @USEmbassy.rangoon, May 20, 2019,

[107] “Myanmar journalists ‘harassed’ for reporting on Rohingya crisis,” Al Jazeera, October 16, 2017,

[108] “Myanmar bans Radio Free Asia for using the term “Rohingyas”,” Reporters Without Borders, June 12, 2018,

[109] Julia Carrie Wong, Michael Safi, and Shaikh Azizur Rahman, “Facebook bans Rohingya group’s posts as minority faces ‘ethnic cleansing’,” The Guardian, September 20, 2017,

[110] “Myanmar army sues Reuters over report on deaths of Rohingya women,” The Guardian, March 10, 2020,

[111] “Daring to defy Myanmar’s Patriarchy,” Free Expression Myanmar, 2018,

[112] “Daring to defy Myanmar’s Patriarchy,” Free Expression Myanmar, 2018,

[113] Discussion with women human rights defender in Yangon, March 2019.

[114] Htet Naing Zaw, “Incoming Info Minister Pe Myint: ‘I Will Ensure Press Freedom’,” The Irrawaddy, March 28, 2016,

[115] Nyan Hlaing Lynn, “Pe Myint: ‘A government needs to inform the people’,” Frontier, May 6, 2016,

[116] “Freedom of the Press 2017 – Myanmar,” Freedom House, May 10, 2017,

[117] Discussions at the Myanmar Media Conference, Naypyidaw, December 2018.

[118] MOI Webportal Myanmar, @MOIWebportalMyanmar,

[119] Myanmar State Counsellor Office, @state.counsellor,

[120] It was originally called the “State Counsellor’s Information Committee,” before being renamed, possibly to distance her from some of the page’s more infamous pronouncements. Information Committee, @InformationCommittee,

[121] Mratt Kyaw Thu, “Tatmadaw warns journalists against calling domestic conflicts ‘civil wars’,” Frontier, January 18, 2019,

[122] Often posts included disinformation around specific human rights violations and includes graphic imagery. For example, in March 2018, in response to criticism from the British government, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief posted on its Facebook page images of dismembered children alleging that they were killed by the Rohingya, see Timothy McLaughlin, “How Facebook’s Rise Fueled Chaos and Confusion in Myanmar,” Wired, June 7, 2018,

[123] Paul Mozur, “A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military,” The New York Times, October 15, 2018,

[124] Nathaniel Gleicher, “Taking Down More Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in Myanmar,” Facebook, August 21, 2019,

[125] Megan Specia and Paul Mozur, “A War of Words Puts Facebook at the Center of Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis,” The New York Times, October 27, 2017,

[126] Anthony Kuhn, “Concern Is High Over Facebook’s Role In Fanning Violence In Myanmar,” NPR, June 14, 2018,

[127] Annie Gowen and Max Bearak, “Fake news on Facebook fans the flames of hate against the Rohingya in Burma,” The Washington Post, December 8, 2017,

[128] There are multiple initiatives monitoring Facebook content containing false and hateful information but most attempt to mitigate risk by remaining low profile and therefore do not publish public reports. Some content can be seen publicly, such as for example on “ဟုတ်တယ် Vs မဟုတ်ဘူး  [Real or not],”, and “တွေးပြီးမှယုံ[Think Before You Trust],” @ThinkBeforeYouTrust,

[129] Hunter Marston, “The hate speech threat to the 2020 election,” Frontier, April 6, 2019,; “Hate speech intensity and trajectory could shift in Myanmar 2020 elections,” Mizzima, November 30, 2019,

[130] “Printing and Publishing Law,” Free Expression Myanmar, March 14, 2014,

[131] Hanna Beech and Saw Nang, “In Myanmar, a Facebook Blackout Brings More Anger Than a Genocide Charge,” The New York Times, August 31, 2018,

[132] It is not a “civil war” but rather a “war of annihilation against insurgents”, see Mratt Kyaw Thu, “Tatmadaw warns journalists against calling domestic conflicts ‘civil wars’,” Frontier, January 18, 2019,

[133] Peter Lloyd, “Burma leader Aung San Suu Kyi bans use of Rohingya name for oppressed Muslims,” ABC News, June 22, 2016,

[134] “BBC Burma pulls Myanmar TV deal over Rohingya ‘censorship’,” Channel News Asia, September 4, 2017,

[135] “US-backed broadcaster drops Myanmar channel in dispute over terminology,” Mizzima, June 13, 2018,

[136] “US-backed broadcaster drops Myanmar channel in dispute,” Frontier, June 12, 2018,

[137] “The Global State of Digital in 2020 Report,” Hootsuite, [n.d.],

[138] 7 day news journal 24m; Eleven media group 19m; BBC Burmese 16m; see “Myanmar Facebook page statistics,” Social Bakers, [n.d.],

[139] “’Justice for Victoria’: Toddler testifies in Myanmar ‘nursery rape’ case,” BBC News, September 11, 2019,

[140] Thompson Chau, “Protesters demand end to internet blackout in Rakhine,” Myanmar Times, December 25, 2019,

[141] “Authorities arrest students over Rakhine internet shutdown protest,” Mizzima, February 26, 2020,

[142] Annie Zaman, “Activists demand end to year-long internet disruption in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin States,” Advox, June 26, 2020,

[143] Waiyan Moe Myint [Ye Kaung Myint Maung, Roseanne Gerin], “Six Activists Charged For Protest Against Internet Ban in Myanmar’s Rakhine,” Radio Free Asia, June 24, 2020,

[144] Myanmar: Reverse Conviction of Activist Poet, Uphold Right to Freedom of Expression,” Fortify Rights, September 4, 2020,

[145] San Yamin Aung, “Military Chief’s Comment on Tatmadaw ‘Representing’ the People Draws Backlash Online,” The Irrawaddy, July 12, 2018,

[146] “#ArrestMeToo and a black front page: Myanmar rejects jailing of Reuters reporters,” The Guardian, September 6, 2018,

[147] Mong Palatino and Thant Sin, “#SayNOto66d: Documenting the Surge of Online Defamation Cases in Myanmar,” Advox, March 21, 2018,

[148] Oliver Spencer and Yin Yadanar Thein, “It’s time to get rid of criminal defamation,” Frontier, January 24, 2019,

[149] Personal communications with Rohingya activists in Europe, February 2018.

[150] Julia Carrie Wong, Michael Safi, and Shaikh Azizur Rahman, “Facebook bans Rohingya group’s posts as minority faces ‘ethnic cleansing’,” The Guardian, September 20, 2017,

[151] Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008), Article 6(e).

[152] Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) Article 354(a).

[153] Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) Article 365.

[154] Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) Article 354. Article 365 includes a similar broad and vague limitation.

[155] Win Ko Ko and Wai Mar Tun [Khet Mar and Ye Khaung Myint Maung, Roseanne Gerin], “New Committee Maps Out Plans to Amend Myanmar’s Constitution,” Radio Free Asia, February 25, 2019,

[156] “20 expert organisations urge Myanmar to fully guarantee the internationally protected right to freedom of expression in the Constitution,” Free Expression Myanmar, April 11, 2019,

[157] “Monitoring in Myanmar: An Analysis of Myanmar’s Compliance with Fair Trial Rights,” Justice Base, October 2017,

[158] “66(d): no real change,” Free Expression Myanmar, December 2017,

[159] Personal communications with a range of lawyers acting for defendants on digital-related cases, December 2017.

[160] “Superficial amendment leaves Broadcasting Law undemocratic,” Free Expression Myanmar, September 13, 2018,

[161] Naw Betty Han, “New Myanmar Press Council committee members challenged to fix Media Act,” Myanmar Times, August 20, 2018,

[162] Pyae Phyo Aung, “Gov’t urged to pass the Right to Information Law,” Eleven Media Group, December 11, 2018,

[163] “New National Records and Archives Law preserves government secrecy,” Free Expression Myanmar, March 12, 2020,

[164] “The Telecommunications Law (The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law No. 31, 2013),” October 8, 2013,

[165] Shibani Mahtani, “Myanmar’s Telecom Revolution Bogs Down,” The Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2013,

[166] Other problematic provisions in the Telecommunications Law (2013) include Articles 4, 5-8, 18, 40, 68, and 75-77, see “Telecommunications Law,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013,

[167] Moe Myint, “Activists Deem Amendments to Article 66(d) ‘Ineffective’,” The Irrawaddy, August 2, 2017,; Oliver Spencer, Zar Chi Oo, and Yin Yadanar Thein, “The 66(d) amendment: tinkering at the edges,” Frontier, September 15, 2017,

[168] Shoon Naing and Yimou Lee, “Myanmar retains tough clause in communications law despite calls for repeal,” Reuters, August 18, 2017,

[169] “66(d): no real change,” Free Expression Myanmar, December 2017,

[170] “Myanmar: Worsening Climate for Free Expression despite UN Commitments,” Article 19, May 2019,

[171] Linda Lakhdhir, “Dashed Hopes: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch, January 31, 2019,

[172] Tin Htet Paing, “Critics Skeptical of New Privacy Legislation,” The Irrawaddy, March 15, 2017,

[173] The State Law and Order Restoration Council, “The Computer Science Development Law, No. 10/96,” September 20, 1996,

[174] Nai Lin Aung, “အသစ္ေရးဆြဲသည့္ အီလက္ထရြန္နစ္ဥပေဒ ေလ့လာအႀကံျပဳရန္ မၾကာမီထုတ္ျပန္ဖြယ္ရွိ [A newly designed Electronic Contact Cooperation Law may be released soon],” 7Day Daily, December 14, 2014,

[175] “MCRB provides initial comments to government on the draft cybersecurity framework, and discusses cybersecurity with MPs,” Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, February 4, 2019,; Htoo Thant, “Japan helps Myanmar to enact cybersecurity law,” Myanmar Times, January 15, 2019,

[176] Feedback from those present in early meetings, Yangon, February 25, 2019.

[177] Htoo Thant, “Govt considering new cyber law, minister says,” Myanmar Times, December 13, 2018,

[178] Discussions from participants at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, January 18, 2019.

[179] Aung Phay Kyi Soe, “Bill seeks to control news of outbreaks in Myanmar,” Myanmar Times, February 24, 2020,

[180] “Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law No. 3/2019 – Trademark Law,” Myanmar Law Library, 2019,; “Myanmar Passes Long-Awaited Trademark Law,” Tilleke & Gibbins, February 1, 2019,

[181] Yuwadee Thean-ngarm, Sher Hann Chua and Nwe Oo, “Myanmar Passes Patent Law,” Lexology, March 14, 2019,

[182] Sher Hann Chua and Khin Myo Myo Aye, “Myanmar Enacts Copyright Law,” Lexology, May 24, 2019,

[183] “Anti-Hate Speech draft law submitted to Myanmar parliament,” Coconuts Yangon, September 28, 2017,

[184] Ei Ei Toe Lwin, “Draft hate speech bill sent to parliament,” Myanmar Times, September 27, 2017,

[185] Personal communications with members of the Harmony Working Group, Yangon, February 2018.

[186] “Hate speech Directive threatens free expression in election countdown,” Free Expression Myanmar, April 22, 2020,

[187] “၂၀၁၉ ခုနှစ်လွတ်လပ်စွွာထုတ်ဖ ွာ်ဖ ပွာဆ ုခွင ်အဖ ခအဖေ [Freedom of expression cases in 2019],” Athan, February 27, 2020,

[188] Khin Myat Myat Wai, “Athan: 250 people face charges for social media posts,” Myanmar Times, September 4, 2019,

[189] “၂၀၁၉ ခုနှစ်လွတ်လပ်စွွာထုတ်ဖ ွာ်ဖ ပွာဆ ုခွင ်အဖ ခအဖေ [Freedom of expression cases in 2019],” Athan, February 27, 2020, Also see Htike Nanda Win, “Report: Most complaints under Section 66(d) made by officials,” Myanmar Times, December 13, 2017,

[190] “66(d): No real change,” Free Expression Myanmar, December 2017,

[191] “Myanmar: More ‘outrageous’ convictions for satire performers,” Amnesty International, February 17, 2020,

[192] “Myanmar Authorities Prosecuting Activists and Critics Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Civicus, April 28, 2020,

[193] “Myanmar military sues Irrawaddy editor Ye Ni over Rakhine conflict report,” Committee to Protect Journalists, March 17, 2020,

[194] Htun Khaing, “Prominent reporter refuses to apologise after Ma Ba Tha files defamation suit,” Frontier, March 8, 2017,

[195] “Myanmar court to hear appeal in defamation case against journalist Swe Win,” Committee to Protect Journalists, August 29, 2019,

[196] Sean Gleeson, “Myanmar Now editor Ko Swe Win arrested at Yangon Airport,” Frontier, July 30, 2017,

[197] “Joint statement: Myanmar authorities must drop the case against Ko Swe Win and decriminalise defamation,” International Commission of Jurists, March 7, 2019,

[198] “Myanmar journalist jailed for two years for reporting Covid-19 death,” Reporters Without Borders, May 22, 2020,

[199] He has since been released. “Myanmar: Release jailed filmmaker second update,” Amnesty International, May 18, 2020,

[200] Myat Thura, “Myanmar legislators seek amendment to stop privacy law abuse,” Myanmar Times, February 20, 2020,

[201] Phyo Thiha Cho, “Karenni Activists Get 6 months for insulting dignity of state officials in Aung San statue protest,” Myanmar Now, November 13, 2019,

[202] Kyaw Ye Lynn, “Interview, terminated: A bridge too far for Mon State chief minister,” Frontier, March 4, 2019,

[203] “Burma: Privacy Law Used to Prosecute Critics,” Human Rights Watch, January 12, 2018,

[204] Kyaw Ko Ko, “Myanmar editor faces terror charges over interview with AA,” Myanmar Times, March 31, 2020,

[205] “Myanmar frees journalist who was charged under terrorism law,” The Straits Times, April 10, 2020,

[206] “Reuters journalists freed from Myanmar prison [Timeline],” Reuters,

[207] “Myanmar Supreme Court agrees to rule on journalists’ appeal,” AP News, March 26, 2019,

[208] “Myanmar army withdraws criminal complaint against Reuters,” Reuters, March 18, 2020,

[209] “Former columnist jailed for ‘abusive’ Facebook posts on Aung San Suu Kyi,” France 24, September 19, 2018,

[210] Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “SIM card registration to be enforced in 2017,” Myanmar Times, August 3, 2016,

[211] Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “SIM card registration to be enforced in 2017,” Myanmar Times, August 3, 2016,

[212] Personal discussions with subscribers subscribing to at least two providers (April 10, 2020).

[213] Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020,

[214] Saw Yi Nandar, “Govt blocks 6.55 million SIM cards,” Myanmar Times, February 7, 2020,

[215] “Deactivating SIM cards during Covid-19 violates rights — Covid 19,” Free Expression Myanmar, April 29, 2020,

[216] “Myanmar in bid to tackle unregistered SIM cards,” Xinhua Net, March 24, 2019,

[217] Thompson Chau, “Myanmar wants mobile user biometrics,” Myanmar Times, December 5, 2019,; “Myanmar: Dangerous Plans for Biometric SIM Card Registration Must be Scrapped,” Privacy International, December 9, 2019,

[218] Thompson Chau, “Myanmar diverts special telecoms fund to biometrics database,” Myanmar Times, June 11, 2020,

[219] “Printing and Publishing Law, No. 13,” Free Expression Myanmar, March 14, 2014,

[220] “MCRB provides initial comments to government on the draft cybersecurity framework, and discusses cybersecurity with MPs,” Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, February 4, 2019,; Htoo Thant, “Japan helps Myanmar to enact cybersecurity law,” Myanmar Times, January 15, 2019,; Discussions from participants at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum on January 18, 2019.

[221] Personal experience of the author when accompanying persons attending police interviews, Yangon, between January and May 2018.

[222] Personal communications with a range of interviewees that have been arrested for protesting or for other forms of activism online, July 2017 to March 2018.

[223] “Myanmar Lawyer Says Evidence from Reuters Reporters’ Phones May Be ‘Tainted’,” The Irrawaddy, May 30, 2018,

[224] Timothy LcLaughlin, “Security-tech companies once flocked to Myanmar. One firm’s tools were used against two journalists,” The Washington Post, May 4, 2019,

[225] “The spyware used by Arab dictators has now shown up in Myanmar,” MIT Technology Review, July 10, 2019,

[226] Moe Moe, “New Body to Track Online Instigators Who Harm Govt, Sovereignty,” The Irrawaddy, May 23, 2018,

[227] Moe Moe, “Parliament Approves Funds for Internet Oversight Body,” The Irrawaddy, March 21, 2018,

[228] Nyein Zaw Lin, “Social media team will not spy on netizens, official says,” Myanmar Times, May 23, 2018,

[229] Zaw Zaw Htwe and Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Critics rail against govt budget for monitoring of Facebook,” Myanmar Times, March 22, 2018,

[230] Nay Phyo Win, “Government allots over 6 billion kyats to form social media watchdog,” Democratic Voice of Burman (DVB), March 19, 2018,

[231] Nyein Zaw Lin, “Social media team will not spy on netizens, official says,” Myanmar Times, May 23, 2018,

[232] Personal communication with the head of a civil society organization working on digital rights, Yangon, June 2018.

[233] Nyein Zaw Lin, “Social media team will not spy on netizens, official says,” Myanmar Times, May 23, 2018,

[234] Civil society attempts to engage with the SMMT in December 2018 were rebuffed by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, staff at which initially stated that they were not aware of the department and later failed to reply. Discussions with digital activists in Yangon, December 2018.

[235] “Parliament to Debate $95-Million S. Korean Loan for Gov’t Data Center,” The Irrawaddy, December 3, 2018,

[236] Aung Kyaw Nyunt, “Government to build integrated data centre with S. Korean aid,” Myanmar Times, April 20, 2018,

[237] Kyaw Ko Ko, “Mandalay moves closer to e-government with data centre,” Myanmar Times, January 28, 2019,

[238] Discussions among digital rights activists at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon on January 18, 2019.

[239] One telecommunications operator has stated off the record that the police have repeatedly requested data without any form of court warrant. Interview in Yangon, December 2018. Examples of efforts to better protect data include at least one civil society organization working with local businesses in Yangon to develop privacy policies.

[240] “WhatsApp the Media Platform of Choice for ARSA,” The Irrawaddy, June 12, 2018,

[241] “Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens [Unofficial translation MCRB],” Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, March 8, 2017,; “Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens,” Free Expression Myanmar, [n.d.],

[242] “Lack of Consultation on the Citizens Privacy and Security Law is a Missed Opportunity,” Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, March 13, 2017,;  Tin Htet Paing, “Critics Skeptical of New Privacy Legislation,” The Irrawaddy, March 15, 2017,

[243] Myat Thura, “Myanmar legislators seek amendment to stop privacy law abuse,” Myanmar Times, February 20, 2020,

[244] “Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018,; “Chapter 4.3 Privacy,” SWIA, Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, [n.d.],

[245]  “Telecommunications Law,” Law. No. 31/2013, Article 75, Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013,

[246]  “Telecommunications Law – Law. No. 31/2013,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013,

[247]  “Telecommunications Law – Law. No. 31/2013,” Free Expression Myanmar, October 8, 2013,

[248] Drug Policy Advocacy Group, “Guiding Drug Law Reform in Myanmar,” Transnational Institute (TNI), November 29, 2017,

[249] Telenor is one of the only telecommunications operators in Myanmar that appears to proactively publish information on government requests, in its annual Sustainable Business Briefings, see “Telenor Myanmar 6th Annual Sustainable Business Briefing 2019,” Telenor, 2019,; “Authority Requests Disclosure Report,” Telenor, 2018,; Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020,

[250] Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020,

[251] Saw Yi Nandar, “Telcos say data helps police solve cases of missing persons,” Myanmar Times, February 4, 2020,

[252] Personal communication with a senior manager from a civil society organization working on telecommunications reform, Yangon, June 2018.

[253] “Report: Myanmar’s media not free or fair,” Free Expression Myanmar, May 3, 2020,

[254] “Report: Myanmar’s media not free or fair,” Free Expression Myanmar, May 3, 2020,; Htike Nanda Win, “Media freedom declining in Myanmar: experts, journalists,” Myanmar Times, April 2, 2018,

[255] “Myanmar journalists ‘harassed’ for reporting on Rohingya crisis,” Al Jazeera, October 16, 2017,

[256] “Reuters journalists freed from Myanmar prison [Timeline],” Reuters,

[257] Shoon Naing and Thu Thu Aung, “Black hoods, kneeling, no sleep: Reuters reporter details Myanmar custody,” Reuters, July 24, 2018,; “Myanmar: Free Reuters Journalists, Drop Case,” Human Rights Watch, July 1, 2018,

[258] “Journalist stabbed in Sittwe,” Democratic Voice of Burman (DVB), December 20, 2017,

[259] Panel discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon, February 28-29, 2020.

[260] “Report exposes arbitrary detention, torture of Myanmar activists,” Al Jazeera, April 23, 2020,

[261] Lawi Weng, “Buddhist Monk Accused of Aiding Ethnic Armed Group Tortured by Myanmar Military,” The Irrawaddy, October 31, 2019,

[262] Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), “Hpa-an District Interview: Arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and intimidation by BGF soldiers and village authorities, March 2020,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, June 26, 2020,

[263] “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” Human Rights Council, March 5, 2019,

[264] “Daring to defy Myanmar’s patriarchy,” Free Expression Myanmar, December 2018,

[265] 11 percent of children and 17 percent of adults claimed to have experience some form of cyber-bullying, see “Realising Digital Myanmar,” Telenor, February 2018,

[266] Jacob Goldbegr, “HACKED: Myanmar govt website reads ‘Stop killing Muslims’,” Coconuts Yangon, September 5, 2017,

[267] Aung Kyaw Kyunt and Kyithar Maung, “Myanmar government websites hacked in protest,” Myanmar Times, September 7, 2017,

[268] Discussions at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, Yangon, January 18, 2019.

[269] Discussions with Myanmar digital rights activists, July 15, 2019.

[270] Personal communications with a pro-Rohingya activist, Yangon, April 2018.

[271] Timothy McLaughlin, “Security-tech companies once flocked to Myanmar. One firm’s tools were used against two journalists,” The Washington Post, May 4, 2019,

[272] Patrick Howell O’Neill, “The spyware used by Arab dictators has now shown up in Myanmar,” MIT Technology Review, July 10, 2019,; “New FinSpy iOS and Android implants revealed ITW,” Securelist, Kapersky, July 10, 2019,

[273] Mobile phone spy software includes mSpy, FlexiSpy, Highster, SpyEra, TheOneSpy, and Mobile Spy. Personal communications with women human rights defenders, Yangon, February 2018.

[274] “Microsoft Security Intelligence Report,” Volume 23, Microsoft, 2018,

[275] “Kaspersky Security Bulletin 2019”, Kaspersky

[276] “Microsoft Security Intelligence Report,” Volume 22, Microsoft, 2017,

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