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Myanmar’s online freedom second worst globally

FROM THE DVB NEWSROOM

Freedom House calls internet freedom in Myanmar the second worst globally after China. In its 2023 Freedom on the Net report, Myanmar scored 10 out of 100 in terms of internet freedom, a decline by two points in the reporting period from June 2022 to the end of May 2023. 

It cited internet shutdowns, mobile data price increases, censorship, and the military’s direct and indirect control over telecommunications companies since 2021. “The drastic decline in internet freedom after the coup has not stopped but rather gets worse and worse every year. Myanmar’s internet freedom has now dropped below Iran, Cuba, and Belarus, and only China is minimally worse,” the local author of the Freedom House report told DVB.

Burma is one of the only countries in the world where internet access has declined in the last year. The internet penetration rate in early 2023 was 44 percent, down from 45.9 percent in January 2022. This was partly caused by the military continually shutting down telecommunications services. Access to the internet continues to be restricted in parts of Sagaing and Magway regions as well as Kachin, Karenni, and Chin states. 

Freedom House stated that mobile connections decreased to 64.6 million in February 2023 from 73 million in January 2022. A main cause of the reduction of mobile connections was due to the rising costs of mobile phone data amidst inflation and high unemployment. The military regime enacted a purchase-tax on SIM cards of K20,000 in January 2022 and imposed a K6,000 mandatory registration fee for internet mobile equipment identity (IMEI) numbers. 

Most people in Myanmar access the internet through mobile phones and data, causing online access to be disproportionately limited by the price hikes. Electricity blackouts and flooding have hampered internet connectivity. Telecommunications infrastructure has also been reportedly damaged during fighting between the military and resistance forces. 

Myanmar has seen increasing online censorship as Naypyidaw has tightened its grip on internet access. Mobile service providers have been forced to block access to all but 1,500 websites pre-approved by the military regime. Social media platforms Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram, and Whatsapp were banned in the days following the military coup. The bans have disrupted businesses and banks, as well as healthcare, education, and transportation services. 

“The military is learning new techniques of control from authoritarian states. There is an arms race going on between the military’s attempt to control the internet and the peoples attempts to keep it free,” concluded the local author of the Freedom House report.

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