Myanmar’s military government reportedly arrested at least three protesters on Thursday hours after it blocked Facebook and other social media platforms in a bid to quell dissent after detaining the country’s elected leaders and seizing power in a coup that the United Nations chief said must fail.
Facebook, used by about half Myanmar’s 53 million people, has emerged as a key platform for opposition to Monday’s coup with photos of civil disobedience campaigns and nightly pot-and-pan protests widely shared.
The Ministry of Communications and Transport said the restrictions would remain in place until February 7.
“Currently the people who are troubling the country’s stability … are spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook,” the ministry said in a letter.
The police action comes after street protest erupted in the second-biggest city Mandalay against the coup that ousted democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Video on Facebook showed around 20 people outside Mandalay Medical University, according to Reuters. One banner read “People protest against military coup”.
To silence online activity
The move to silence online activity came after police filed charges against former leader Suu Kyi, who has not been seen since she was detained in the early hours of Monday morning, for illegally importing communications equipment, and as the United Nations said it was doing all it could to mobilise an international response to the military takeover.
NetBlocks, which monitors online services worldwide, said restrictions on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp by the state-owned Internet provider MPT appeared to have spread to other providers. People were using VPNs to get around the blocks, it said.
“Facebook products are now restricted on multiple internet providers in #Myanmar as operators comply with an apparent blocking order,” Netblocks wrote on Twitter.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, confirmed the disruption.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone urged authorities to restore connectivity “so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information”.