Surat Terbuka IFJ: Letter to Telecom and ISPs Myanmar

8 Feb 2021 12:01 pm | Oleh : Naharin Ni'matun


Dear mobile operators and internet service providers in Myanmar,

Right now, more than ever, the internet is integral to our survival. Without it we cannot stay
connected with each other and the outside world, which heightens the risk for human rights
violations against us.

Given this, we are writing with regards to your adherence to the shutdown of social media
platforms. On February 3 2021, mobile operators, international gateways and internet service
providers (ISPs) received a directive from the Ministry of Transport and Communications to
block Facebook; on February 5 2021, an additional directive was received to block the social
media platforms Twitter and Instagram.

These directives were given by an illegitimate authority body – by engaging in an illegal,
unconstitutional seizure of power, the military does not have the right to be recognized as the
governing body of Myanmar. By complying with their directives, your companies are essentially
legitimizing the military’s authority, despite international condemnation of this very body.

Further, the rights to freedom of expression and information are protected under general
international human rights law. As evidenced in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, any restrictions to freedom of expression must be necessary andproportionate to achieving a legitimate aim.1 With COVID restrictions and ongoing security risks
in the country, the people of Myanmar rely on social media platforms to share their voices with
each other and the world. The blocking of social media platforms with the intent to silence Myanmar people’s dissent cannot be perceived as a legitimate aim.

We call for mobile operators and ISPs to take every action available to appeal the recent junta
directives. Telenor has stated that the directive has legal basis under the Myanmar
Telecommunications Law but this is questionable. Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law
authorizes the Ministry of Transport and Communication (MOTC) in case an “emergency
situation arises to operate for the public interest,” to direct a telecommunications licensee to
suspend a service or “intercept or not to operate any specific form of communication.”
According to the International Commission of Jurists, Section 77 is incompatible with
international human rights law and standards on freedom of expression and information, which
in turn brings into question the validity of the MOTC order.2

Additionally, we understand that telecom operators are required to report on requests for
personal user data. We would like assurance that your companies are only disclosing
information related to life-or-death situations. Facilitating the military’s surveillance of activists
and journalists puts them at severe risk.

Finally, we would like to remind all operators that under the UN Guiding Principles of Business
and Human Rights, you have a duty to not enable or contribute to potential human rights
violations. Shutting down an important means for the nation to communicate with one another
and bear witness is part of the military’s strategy to illegally retain power, and would thereby
allow for potential human rights violations to take place with impunity. To uphold your duty:

  • Mobile operators and ISPs must prevent the military from accessing user data.
  • Mobile operators and ISPs must take every action available to appeal the recent junta directives.
  • Mobile operators and ISPs must develop plans in the event the human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorates.

Your services and actions are needed by the people now more than ever.

Myanmar Civil Society Organizations working on:
Human Rights,
Peace and Federal Democracy,
Justice and Accountability