Information Blackouts and Junta Crimes

June 10th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  10 minute read
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“potential reasons behind the internet access and mobile phone access blackout indicated much evidence that the brutal military committed mass human rights violations including burning people’s houses, using airstrikes to bomb villages, carrying out massacres, looting precious jewelry and properties of residents, and several other inhumane crimes in the areas where internet access was cut.”


The junta is escalating its scorched earth tactics in Sagaing and Magwe Regions, burning homes, shelling villages, launching airstrikes and killing innocent civilians, as it attempts to wipe out local resistance forces. In a pattern seen both since and prior to the attempted coup, it is using internet blackouts and cutting phone lines as cover to hide their atrocities, while also blocking the provision of humanitarian aid to reach the survivors of the junta’s brutal violence.

Three days of intense burning in three villages last week, including the torching of a health clinic, left plumes of smoke rising over an 8km stretch in upper Sagaing. In just one weekend in late May, 10,000 civilians were forced to flee 19 villages in Sagaing Region which were raided by junta forces, who torched houses, fired heavy artillery, and arrested and killed civilians. Three villages were left abandoned, no longer safe to live for local people. As a local monk told local media, The Irrawaddy, “it takes villagers at least 10 years to build a house. Now they were reduced to ashes in minutes.” While this part of Myanmar’s dryzone has seen some of the worst of the violence, recent reports by Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand and Amnesty International documenting airstrikes and shelling against civilians, rape and sexual violence, extrajudicial killings and the use of human shields in northern and eastern Myanmar respectively shows the systematic and nationwide scale of violence, reaffimring that these atrocities are amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As the junta is increasing these attacks in the dryzone of Sagaing and Magwe, it is also cutting phone lines and restricting internet access. Eight Sagaing townships had their phone lines cut on 24 May and this was extended to an additional six townships in both Sagaing and Magwe regions on 29 May. The cutting of the phone lines, coupled with observations of junta reinforcements and troop movements, is a foreboding sign of an increase in the ferocity of the junta’s ongoing scorched-earth campaign. It also blocks information from getting out of these areas, particularly where atrocity crimes are being committed. This is added to the already existing internet restrictions in the area.

The local activist group, Athan, has released a report documenting the junta’s regular use of internet and telecommunications blackouts to disguise their atrocities, stating that, “potential reasons behind the internet access and mobile phone access blackout indicated much evidence that the brutal military committed mass human rights violations including burning people’s houses, using airstrikes to bomb villages, carrying out massacres, looting precious jewelry and properties of residents, and several other inhumane crimes in the areas where internet access was cut.” A group of UN experts has labeled the situation a “digital dictatorship” while also referencing how the junta is attempting to bring in new legislation that would pose even further restrictions such as criminalizing the use of virtual private networks and block online content.

Furthermore, such a telecommunications block hinders the provision of humanitarian aid, and this has been seen across Myanmar. For example in Karenni State, where a power cut to the city of Loikaw earlier in 2022 meant that local humanitarian organizations had difficulty coordinating and accessing those displaced from the junta’s violence. A local resistance fighter in Sagaing also told Radio Free Asia about how the cutting of phone lines means that aid delivery cannot be implemented. This is essential as the junta is weaponizing humanitarian aid. For example in a village in Sagaing Region, junta soldiers entered on the pretense that they were providing humanitarian assistance while the real objective was to access the area. The telecommunications restrictions also have a military objective, meaning that local resistance groups cannot communicate to inform each other and discuss junta troop movements for their defense, or communicate with their government, the National Unity Government (NUG).

The telecommunications companies acquiesce to the junta by complying with their orders on blockages or restrictions. As outlined by the UN group of experts, three out of four of the telecommunications companies have direct links to the military’s sprawling business empire, and as such are profiting from the situation, while also being complicit in the junta’s crimes. As a staff member of a telecommunications company anonymously told Myanmar Now, “The telecoms service providers have no choice but to do the military’s bidding. They have to cut off the communications if they are told to do so.” Mytel, one of the biggest telecommunications companies, is partly owned and controlled by the Myanmar military, while one of the biggest private companies, Norwegian-owned, Telenor, recently sold its Myanmar entity to a Myanmar firm with close links to the Myanmar military – Shwe Byain Phyu. This sale was widely criticized by Myanmar civil society as an abdication of Telenor’s responsibilities, in particular the turning over of metadata of 18 million customers that has very real and grave implications for their safety and security.

Telecommunications blackouts are not necessarily new to Myanmar’s Spring Revolution, as was clear in the over year-long shutdown of the internet in Rakhine and Chin States between 2019 and 2020 during the worst of the fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army. Yet, as documented by Athan, the use of such restrictions throughout the country are an essential part of their tactics to cover up atrocities and disrupt resistance to their coup attempt. The impacts this has on civilian populations, who are left in the dark about impending offensives, accessing essential services, and coordinating for their own safety adds to the significant insecurity they are facing at the hands of the junta. There must be thus more efforts on the part of the international community to impose targeted sanctions on the junta, including banning the sale of cybersecurity weapons and surveillance technology. Specifically, the Norwegian government must hold Telenor accountable for their failure to conduct human rights due diligence when it was clear that their sale of Telenor Myanmar would result in the company being in the hands of a military-linked company, and the access to people’s data that is a consequence of this. Not only has this breached international guidelines on business and human rights, but the transfer of surveillance technology as part of this sale is a violation of existing sanctions. Lastly, more support must be given to Myanmar civil society organizations working on the protection of human rights and provision of humanitarian assistance. This must also include assistance to those working on the issue of internet freedom, both in terms of monitoring and documenting the situation, as well as providing cybersecurity tools and training to the human rights defenders and activists who refuse to bow down to the military 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


Statements and Press Releases

အာဆီယံ The AHA Center နှင့် သက်ဆိုင်ရာ နိုင်ငံတကာအဖွဲ့အစည်းများမှ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအတွက် လူသားချင်းစာနာမှုဆိုင်ရာ အကူအညီများကို အကြမ်းဖက်အာဏာသိမ်းစစ်အုပ်စု၏ လက်ထဲသို့သာထိုးထည့်လိုက်မည့် အပေါ် မန္တလေးအခြေစိုက် အရပ်ဘက်လူမှုအဖွဲ့အစည်း (၁၁၆) ဖွဲ့များမှ အပြင်းအထန် ကန့်ကွက်ရှုတ်ချခြင်း

By 116 Mandalay-based Civil Society Organizations Network

UN and ASEAN Risk Complicity in Myanmar junta’s weaponization of Aid and atrocity crimes

By ALTSEAN-Burma, Chin Human Rights Organization, Karenni Civil Society Network, Karen Peace Support Network and Progressive Voice

Myanmar: Military onslaught in eastern states amounts to collective punishment

By Amnesty International

ILO to launch Myanmar eLearning Programme on Child Labour to bolster social protection and community action

By International Labour Organization

အစီရင်ခံစာသစ်သည် မြန်မာပြည် မြောက်ပိုင်းတွင်ကျူးလွန်သော နိုင်ငံတော်စီမံအုပ်ချုပ်ရေးကောင်စီ (စကစ)၏ စစ်ရာဇဝတ်မှုများကို ဖော်ပြထားသည်။

By Kachin Women’s Association Thailand

New Report Maps Out SAC War Crimes in Northern Burma

By Kachin Women’s Association Thailand

အကြမ်းဖက်စစ်ကောင်စီနှင့် ဆွေးနွေးညှိနှိုင်း အပေးအယူပြုလုပ်မှုများအား တရားမဝင်ကြောင်းနှင့် အသိအမှတ်ပြုလက်ခံခြင်းရှိမည် မဟုတ်ကြောင်း အသိပေးကြေညာချက်

By National Unity Government of Myanmar

Ministry of Defence, National Unity Government Announcement (May 31st 2022)

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Defence)

Statement of Union Minister of Ministry of Foreign Affairs on her visit to the United States in May 2022

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Statement on Military Terrorist’s Attempt to Open the Schools

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry of Education)

အကြမ်းဖက် စစ်ကောင်စီ၏ သေဒဏ်အတည်ပြုခြင်းအပေါ် တရားမဝင်ကြောင်း ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာခြင်း

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Justice)

Joint Statement of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management – NUG, Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union and Chin National Front on ASEAN and UN Proposed Humanitarian Support to Burma/Myanmar

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management), Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union and Chin National Front

အာဆီယံနှင့်ကုလသမဂ္ဂမှ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအားပံ့ပိုးမည့်လူသားချင်းစာနာထောက်ထားမှုဆိုင်ရာ အကူအညီပေးရေးအဆိုပြုချက်အပေါ်တွင် ပူးတွဲသဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management), Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union and Chin National Front

Myanmar: Number of children out of school more than doubles in two years

By Save the Children

Revolutionary Systems of Local Governance in Myanmar Should Receive International Assistance

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar



Burma Coup Watch for the Month of May 2022: Junta and AA on the Brink of War As Displacement Figures Hit Record High

By ALTSEAN-Burma, Asia Democracy Network, FORUM-ASIA, Burma Human Rights Network, Initiatives for International Dialogue, International Federation for Human Rights, Progressive Voice and US Campaign for Burma

“Bullets Rained from the Sky”: War Crimes and Displacement in Eastern Myanmar

By Amnesty International

ACLED Regional Overview – East Asia Pacific (21-27 May 2022)

By Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

Internet Access Amid Darkness and Lives Amid Threats

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization

Myanmar (Burma) – Over 1,800 People Have Been Killed and At Least 10,800 People Remain Detained Since 1 February 2021

By Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Barriers, Bottlenecks and Solutions for Nutrition Programming in Rakhine State, Myanmar

By Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience Programme Facility and Crown Agents

Avoiding a Return to War in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

By International Crisis Group

New Threats from the Air: Human Rights Violations by SAC Forces in Kachin and Northern Shan State, November 2021 to April 2022

By Kachin Women’s Association Thailand

Myanmar Humanitarian Update No. 18 | 31 May 2022

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

UNICEF Myanmar Humanitarian Situation Report No. 4: 1 to 31 May 2022

By United Nations Children’s Fund

WFP Myanmar Market Price Update (April 2022)

By World Food Programme

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.”