UN experts condemn Myanmar military’s ‘digital dictatorship’
UN human rights experts have condemned the Myanmar military junta’s attempts to establish a “digital dictatorship” by imposing further restrictions on internet access, tightening web shutdowns and online censorship, surveillance and other barriers to online access.
“The international community must not stand quietly by while the people of Myanmar are systematically denied their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information and privacy, which are guaranteed by the international human rights law,” said the experts.
Thomas Andrews, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression; Ana Brian Nougreres, special rapporteur on the right to privacy; and Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association made the call in a joint statement on Tuesday.
“Online access to information is a matter of life and death for many people in Myanmar, including those seeking safety from indiscriminate attacks by the military and the millions trying to navigate a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis. The junta is using internet shutdowns and invasive surveillance to undermine widespread public opposition and prop up its attacks on the people of Myanmar,” the statement said.
The experts urged UN member states to condemn the junta’s policies to curtail fundamental freedoms online and offline and to adopt targeted sanctions against the military and military-linked companies, including sanctions restricting the sale or supply of dual-use surveillance technology.
They also urged member states and international donors to support civil society initiatives to counter censorship and surveillance in Myanmar.
Following the coup on February 1 last year, the junta imposed nationwide internet blackouts and blocked access to social media and messaging platforms. More recently, the junta imposed targeted internet shutdowns in areas where it faces strong resistance from opposition groups.
“Internet restrictions are being used by the junta as a cloak to hide its ongoing atrocities,” the statement said.
“The barriers to internet access impede efforts by journalists, human rights monitors and humanitarian organisations to collect evidence of human rights violations committed by the military or serve at-risk populations,” it went on.
“The lack of connectivity in large parts of the country also poses a challenge to our mandates, which depend on the collection of contemporaneous evidence of human rights abuses,” they said.
The statement said three out of four telecommunications companies operating in Myanmar have direct links to the military following Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor’s sale of its Myanmar operations in March. Telecommunications providers have come under heavy pressure to activate surveillance technology and hand over user data to police and military officials.
“The people of Myanmar need and deserve a strong international response to the junta’s assault on freedom of expression and access to information and violations of the right to privacy, which threaten the lives and wellbeing of millions. Member states must act swiftly to curtail the junta’s efforts to drag Myanmar back to a digital dark age,” it concluded.
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