Telenor and Norway Must Stop the Sale

February 11th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  11 minute read
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“Telenor’s irresponsible sale is likely to help finance the bullets, bombs and jet fuel that enable the military junta’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Justice For Myanmar

Since the early days of the attempted coup d’état, the Myanmar military has tried to tighten their grip on the flow of information and freedom of expression through unlawful internet blackouts, blocking websites and social media and is now attempting to criminalize the use of VPNs under the so-called “Cyber Security Law”. Amid this attempt to further crack down on freedom of expression and information, Telenor is finalizing the sale of its Myanmar operations to a military-linked telecommunications operator, leaving the people of Myanmar more vulnerable to junta’s persecution. In response, the people of Myanmar are calling on Norway and the larger international community to sharply and decisively push back on the military junta’s unlawful actions, and solidify their support for the Spring Revolution.

The junta’s draft Cyber Security Law is a draconian attempt to crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of information, affecting the work of civil society, activists, journalists and everyday citizens. This is the second attempt by the junta since the coup attempt to push this law, with the latest draft prohibiting the use of VPNs, digital currencies and malware. The penalties are hefty, with a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years, a fine of 5 million kyat ($2,800 USD), or both, for anyone using a VPN. The law would allow for the junta to permanently block social media and websites for reasons, which are vaguely worded and ambiguous, including ‘misinformation or disinformation’ (Article 35(b)). Most people in Myanmar need a VPN in order to access blocked social media and websites, including Facebook, thereby leaving them vulnerable to criminalization. These social media platforms and websites have been unlawfully blacklisted by the junta, who is threatened by the Spring Revolution’s online activism, the mobilizing of protest movements against the military and spaces for civil society discourse on the junta’s litany of crimes.

Aspects of the law are already being enforced. In the lead up to the Silent Strike to mark 1 year since the attempted coup, junta’s forces arbitrarily seized and searched the phones of people on the street, looking for VPN software and Telegram users. The law is clearly an attempt to quash freedom of expression, and to criminalize those seeking to defend democracy and human rights.

During a webinar on social media space following the attempted coup, one panelist wanted to emphasize that none of these actions taken by the junta in respect to the Cyber Security Law are lawful. The military junta has no legal authority to legislate and is designated as a terrorist entity by the National Unity Government and international experts as they attempt to subvert democracy and the will of the people of Myanmar. The junta is also employing other methods to crackdown on freedom of expression and the free flow of information through continuous blocking of websites and social media, unlawful taxes on the purchase of sim cards and internet service providers, and using internet blackouts in conflict areas to cover up their atrocity crimes. In Sagaing Region, the military junta has routinely employed internet blackouts to block communication access to the Peoples’ Defence Force resistance, instill fear in civilians and used to cover up atrocity crimes – a tactic used by the junta in Rakhine and Chin States during their conflict with the Arakan Army, which left millions without mobile internet, cut off and unable to relay or receive vital information.

Meanwhile, internal documents seen by Myanmar Now indicate that the buyer of Telenor Myanmar will be Investcom Myanmar. Investcom Myanmar will be majority owned by military-linked gems, logistics, manufacturing and petrol conglomerate, Shwe Byain Phyu. Reuters has reported that the junta has privately approved the sale of M1 Group and Shwe Byain Phyu. Alarmingly, Telenor has refused to confirm the military-linked Shwe Byain Phyu’s involvement in the sale, while rushing to get approval from the junta for the sale behind closed doors. Additionally, the buyer M1 Group has a track record of working with dictatorships, and being caught in corrupt dealings. Thus, this sale could leave users highly vulnerable to the military spying on the private data of millions of people.

Telenor has already acquiesced to 200 orders from the junta controlled Ministry of Transport and Communications and shared sensitive customer data with the junta. Sickeningly, some of the mobile numbers passed onto Telenor to be the subject of the ‘information requests’ by the junta were obtained during interrogation of detainees, possibly involving torture. Deplorably, Telenor has provided information that includes location, last known location and call data to a terrorist junta which is actively targeting and killing civilians carte blanche.

If the sale to Investcom proceeds as planned, the telecommunications market of 18 million Telenor users’ data would effectively be under the control of the junta, likely to be transferred through the sale. This data could be used to crack down on the people’s movement, civil society and any other Telenor user – breaching users’ privacy and making Telenor complicit in the crimes of the junta. In response to this, a data complaint has been filed by a Myanmar national to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority.

During this crucial time, businesses must listen to the people of Myanmar, not cut their losses and neglect their human rights obligations and run. Myanmar civil society organizations have been repeatedly urging Telenor not to sell to M1 Group since their announcement in July 2021, including 464 Myanmar civil society organizations signing an open letter to Telenor’s CEO, the Norwegian King and Prime Minister demanding their interventions to stop the sale, conduct comprehensive human rights due diligence, meaningful consultations with civil society, journalists and customers, and act in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Yet, this was not followed. Another letter was sent by 168 Myanmar CSOs, Forum Norway and two international partners on 31 January, 2022, to the Norwegian Prime Minister to stop the sale and ‘walk the walk’ on Norway’s global commitments to human rights.

In a press release, Justice For Myanmar (JFM) is calling on the Norwegian government, which is Telenor’s main shareholder, to urgently intervene in the sale. Also, that the sale would “set to enrich the murderous, illegitimate junta and risk personal details of 18 million Myanmar subscribers falling into the hands of war criminals.” JFM further stated that “Telenor’s irresponsible sale is likely to help finance the bullets, bombs and jet fuel that enable the military junta’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

When looking for solutions to the crisis in Myanmar, the international community – particularly the UN and ASEAN – must closely listen to aspirations of Myanmar’s people, as well as the sacrifices made in pursuit of a genuine federal democracy. Thus, the international community must push back on the junta’s attack on freedom of expression and access to information under the Cyber Security Law with tougher targeted sanctions on military leadership, military-affiliated business and cronies – including Shwe Byain Phyu. The international community must impose a coordinated arms embargo, block aviation fuel supplies to end airstrikes and push for justice and accountability against the junta at the International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice and through employing universal jurisdiction. Norway in particular, as a leading advocate for democracy and human rights on the world stage, must walk the walk and play a crucial role in this fight by the people of Myanmar against the military junta, by preventing the sale of Telenor Myanmar to M1 Group and Shwe Byain Phyu. Norway spearheaded peace and development in Myanmar during the so-called transition towards democracy in the 2010s, and companies like Telenor profited hugely from the benefits of this era (Telenor generated $800 million USD in revenue in 2020 alone). In addition, Norway, as the UN Security Council President for January, failed to secure an open briefing on the crisis in Myanmar. With such a tidal wave of resistance to the sale, both by civil society and the Myanmar people at large, Norway and Telenor must take a human rights-based approach and uphold “do no harm” principle in their Myanmar operations and stop the sale to Shwe Byain Phyu and M1 Group, who are in bed with a terrorist junta.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


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Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”