Access Now, outraged by today’s announcement that the Myanmar Investment Commission has approved the sale of Telenor Myanmar, is calling for international actors to implement sanctions and stop the company’s irresponsible disposal of its Myanmar operations to a company whose 80% majority shareholder is military-linked Shwe Byain Phyu Group.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” said Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific Policy Analyst at Access Now. “The Telenor sale approval does not come as a surprise, but it is a major kick in the guts for human rights defenders on the ground. The purchaser, Shwe Byain Phyu, may not be sanctioned now — but it needs to be. International actors must recognize and take action against the company’s multiple and flagrant links to the military.”
Telenor’s sales agreement is with M1 Group, which will buy Telenor Myanmar through its Singapore-registered entity Investcom Pte Ltd — the majority of which will be owned by military-linked Shwe Byain Phyu Group. Telenor noted that it had “not been party to any dialogue between M1 and its local partner,” even as it claims that it screened the transaction as sanctions compliant.
Shwe Byain Phyu Group’s Chairperson, Thein Win Zaw, and Director, Tin Latt Min (Zaw’s wife) have corporate connections with multiple military-linked individuals and companies sanctioned by the United States, European Union and United Kingdom. This includes: Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL); Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC); Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE); Forest Products Joint Venture Corporation (FPJVC); and the individuals, Tay Za; and Pyae Phyo Tay Za. These operators have been sanctioned for their involvement in largely-documented human rights abuses — a web in which Shwe Byain Phyu appears to be an active player.
“Telenor must be held accountable for the disastrous rights impacts which will flow from relinquishing the data of 18 million subscribers to a ruthless regime,” said Golda Benjamin, Asia Pacific Campaigner at Access Now. “The company has followed an approach of willful ignorance of the human rights consequences to the people of Myanmar because of their decision to leave the country.”
If the handover goes ahead, Myanmar’s telecommunications sector will be stained in khaki. Telenor Myanmar’s near 30% share of the market would add to the approximately 55% already held by military-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and Telecom International Myanmar Company Limited (MyTel). Qatar’s Ooredoo holds the remaining 15%, and is likely complying with military surveillance orders. Unless the Telenor Myanmar sale is prevented, the new management will presumably also activate dangerous intercept surveillance technology.
Access Now has repeatedly emphasized serious risks to the rights to privacy, expression, association, and security from the disposal of Telenor Myanmar, and urged Telenor Group to address warnings raised by the people of Myanmar, civil society and its own investors. The sale must be stopped.