Imposing Telecom Incommunicado and Kicking Off Political Zero Sum Game, Unified Arakanese Political Parties, CSO, and Diasporas Urged Myanmar State Counselor and President to Reopen Internet in Rakhine and Chin States

Activists post banners in downtown Yangon and the banners write " Is internet shutdown to coverup war crimes and murdering?"

AN. June 21, 2020
Political parties, CSOs, and international Rakhine communities sent open letters to State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint on June 18 and urged the government leaders to reinstate internet services in Rakhine and Chin states after it has been shut down for one year.

The letters are signed by Arakan Front Party (AFP), Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), and Arakan National Party (ANP) and dozens of CSOs as well as Rakhine communities in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Malaysia, Norway, Netherlands, Thailand, and The United States of America.

They also demanded to withdraw the charges against Rakhine journalists, to restore banned local media webpages, and to enhance humanitarian assistances to the hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons. 

To back up more impact on the letter writing, the organizers, ranging from lawmaker and political leaders to students, women, and civil society representatives, hold Zoom media briefing penal today and broadcasts Facebook Live. 

Interestingly, two more panelists of journalist and humanitarian relief volunteer join the Zoom briefing by phones from their hometowns where internet has been shut down since last June. 

Zaw Tun from Mrauk U briefed the panel he has seen many human rights abuses by the Myanmar soldiers but he cannot report it and send information to the relevant organizations timely since he cannot use the internet. 

He said, “I have seen and heard many times the government soldiers arrested villagers, tortured, shot and killed, used as forced labors, and used as human shells, set fire villages in Mrauk U township during the internet blackout. But I cannot report and post it on social media to let the people know the abuses.” 
Activists protest internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin 

“For internet shutdown, it is extra burden on our Rakhine people’s shoulders. Myanmar leaders are out of compassion and humanity,” he said. 

Rakhine woman lawmaker Miss Htoo May told the media Rakhine people should be treated as equal as all citizens in Yangon and allover Myanmar, who enjoy full access to internet services.

She said, “During the democracy transition, freedom of expression is a key principle for building healthy, strong, and open society. It seems the authority leaving Rakhine people behind, and now election days are coming closer, but Rakhine political parties and representative cannot effectively communicate directly with the people via online. We cannot travel and meet the people in northern Rakhine State where fighting between Arakan Army and Myanmar army is placed almost every day.”

She explained the penal government leaders need more works to do on Rakhine conflicts before the election. 

“First, the government needs to negotiate with AA to ease fighting and make peace in order to have peaceful and participatory election. Second, government and election commission need to talk to Rakhine political parties for the upcoming election preparation. None of these essential works are initiated yet. I worry election may not be able to hold some parts of Rakhine State,” she said.  

Khine Kyaw More, representative of ANP, said he worried a lot about the upcoming election and discrimination against Rakhine political parties. 

He said, “Internet shutdown impacts on every walk of life and every sector of social, political, economic, education, health, and communication. Nothing is better. Moreover, political party cannot communicate with our supporters and members via online. In the meanwhile, the government arrested our party leaders and members. It is fear tactic.”

“You should think about it, when legally registered political party leaders are fear of persecution and get arrested for your own political party interest, how can the ordinary people can speak up for their rights and freely vote for their favorite representatives.”

He said he felt helpless for he could not talk to the government because the leaders do not care. As the same, he could not talk to AA leaders because they do not listen to him. He asked where he should go and talk to get helps for free and fair election in Rakhine State. 

Woman representative Saw San Nyein Thu said during the internet blackout, women, elderlies, and children are suffered the most.

She said, “Because early warning by local NGOs and news are not available for their caretakers but face abrupt gunshots, artillery shells, and airstrikes, death is the only reward.” 

Student representative Myat Hin Tun said Rakhine students face many difficulties for online learning, applying international scholarships, and educational information sharing. Girl students are faced verbal sexual harassments by the authorities. 

He said, “Distance learning students cannot submit their papers and assignments by emails. When they go to their collages and to Yangon to hand the papers and assignments to the relevant universities, police and military searched their phones and laptops at the airport and highway bus stations and asked many questions. The girl students are harassed by asking sexual questions and talking with amusements. No good at all.”

Kyaw San Hlaing, representative of Peace and Development Initiative, said internet shutdown in Rakhine is intentionally blackout for human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed by the military in the military operations. 

He said, “Many civilians were senselessly killed, tortured to dead, and arrested, but international and local media cannot cover the news, nor we can report the photos and news on time but several days later. Sometimes, we get no news at all. These atrocities cannot be solved domestically alone but internationally. More international pressures are needed to impose, and international courts should prosecute perpetrators who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.” 

Rakhine CSO Network representative Miss Aye Myat Thu said she has been facing many difficulties to organizing and mobilizing member organizations without online communication. 

She said, “As an organization and have larger networks in 17 townships, we have to consult and communicate each other, especially to inform and share information of Covid-19 infections in Rakhine State. Now, we have over 10 Covid-19 infected patients in Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Mrauk U, Puaktaw, Thandway, and Toungup townships. There will be more, but we cannot access to villages and IDPs timely for educating them. It makes me worry the most.” 

Khine Kyaw Moe and Myat Hin Tun said international pressures have limit and minimal impact on the government, especially on the military. They said the military and government don’t care the international pressure unless there are leverages and punitive actions follow up.

Myat Hin Tun Said, “Very worse, Aung San Suu Kyi awards the military ‘James Bound’ prize by blessing as a superhero against AA. She issued the statement and sheered the military fighting against Arakan Army while the issue of humanitarian aid delivery to Chin State’s Paletwa was resolved and while hundreds of civilians were brutally killed by the military that sparked the UN had to call for war crimes investigation into the military. All these reckless remarks are Aung San Suu Kyi, who gives a killer license to the military. Now, we are forced to get in a zero sum game. More internet shutdowns, more killings, more arrests, and more forced relocations, and even Martial law military rule will be imposed on Rakhine people. We get to be prepared for the worse.” 

Khine Kyaw Moe warned and said if Rakhine people are kicked into the corner of more oppression and government does not encourage electoral politics and voting system of representation democracy, Rakhine people will be harder and pushed into more bloody conflicts.

Miss Htoo May said government should consider Rakhine people as parts of union whereas everyone should be equal access of information. She said Rakhine state is providing billions of revenues from gas sale to China and other natural resources to the union government.

She said, “Rakhine people deserve wealth sharing and equality. I urge government should not discriminate Rakhine people and open the internet immediately.”  

Moderator San Thar Aung on the left. Top left Khine Kyaw Moe, center Lawmaker Htoo May, far right Saw San Nyein The. On the bottom, left Aye Myat Thu, center Myat Hein Tun, and far right Kyaw San Hlaing. 


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