Advertisement
Share

Facebook blocked in Myanmar as resistance to coup mounts

Graffiti says "Don't want dictatorship" in Yangon, Myanmar
Pedestrians pass by graffiti saying “Don’t want dictatorship” in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday.
(Associated Press)

Myanmar’s new military rulers have blocked access to Facebook amid rising resistance and calls for civil disobedience to protest the coup that ousted the elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Facebook is especially popular in Myanmar, and the government had frequently made public announcements on the social media site.

The military seized power shortly before a new session of parliament was to convene Monday and detained Suu Kyi and other top politicians.

About 70 recently elected lawmakers defied the new military government Thursday by convening a symbolic meeting of the parliament that was prevented from opening. They signed their oaths of office at a government guesthouse in the capital, Naypyitaw, where about 400 of them had been detained immediately after the takeover. They have since been told they can return to their home districts.

Advertisement

The unofficial convening was a gesture to assert that they, not the military, are the country’s legitimate lawmakers. Some expressed their anger and their determination to resist the coup as they left the guesthouse.

“This violates the human rights of the whole citizenry,” said Khin Soe Soe Kyi, a member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. “This is not a coup. This is a treason against the government. I will have to say that this is state treason.”

Myanmar’s military already held vast economic and political power. Now it has to govern a country grappling with health and economic crises.

The military said it took over because the government refused to address its complaints that November’s general election, in which Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory, was marred by widespread voting irregularities. The state Election Commission has rejected the allegations.

The military declared a one-year state of emergency and put all state powers into the hands of the junta, including legislative functions. It said that at the end of that period it will call an election and turn power over to the winner.

Anti-coup graffiti appeared in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, with the slogan “Don’t want dictatorship”’ scrawled on a wall on a busy street.

In Mandalay, a city known for its activist politics, a spirited protest by about 20 people in front of the University of Medicine was broken up by police. Three were arrested.

Myanmar’s civilian leader made a Faustian bargain with the army for political gain, critics say. It ended with her detention in Monday’s coup.

The National League for Democracy and other activists in Myanmar have called for a civil-disobedience campaign to oppose the military takeover. In the vanguard are medical personnel, who have declared that they won’t work for the military government and who are highly respected for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is taxing the country’s dangerously inadequate health system.

For a second night Wednesday, residents in Yangon engaged in “noise protests,” with people banging pots and pans and honking car horns under cover of darkness.

They have also revived a song closely associated with a failed 1988 uprising against military dictatorship. Videos posted on social media showed medical personnel especially turning out to sing the song “Kabar Makyay Bu” — or “We Won’t Be Satisfied Until the End of the World” — which uses the tune of “Dust in the Wind,” a 1977 song by the U.S. rock group Kansas.

The protests appear to have received a boost from the government’s treatment of the highly popular Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other government leaders Monday. Her party said Wednesday she was being charged with possessing illegally imported walkie-talkies — believed to be used by her bodyguards — that were found in her house in the capital, Naypyitaw,

The viral video shows a military convoy storming the gates of parliament in the capital Naypyidaw.

The charge allows authorities to keep her in custody until at least Feb. 15. Ousted President Win Myint is being held on a separate charge. Suu Kyi is believed to be under house arrest at her residence, where she was kept after the army detained her.

The charge against Suu Kyi carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.

Myanmar was under military rule for five decades after a 1962 coup. Suu Kyi’s last five years as leader have been the poor Southeast Asian nation’s most democratic period.

Facebook users said service disruptions began late Wednesday night.

“Telecom providers in Myanmar have been ordered to temporarily block Facebook. We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with family and friends and access important information,” Facebook said in a statement.

In 2018, Facebook removed several accounts linked to Myanmar’s military, including that of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the officer who led this week’s coup, following complaints that they appeared to fuel hatred toward the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. The Rohingya were targeted in a brutal 2017 army counter-insurgency campaign that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. Critics say the army’s actions constituted genocide.


Advertisement