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Myanmar expands internet blackout in violence-wracked Rakhine

Myanmar's Suu Kyi

Yangon – Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has ordered a new internet shutdown in Myanmar’s violence-wracked Rakhine State, causing alarm among rights activists.

Five townships in or near Rakhine, where the military is accused of committing genocide against the Rohingya minority, had mobile phone data cut off.

A government directive “referenced security requirements and public interest” and limits the shutdown to three months, a statement from network provider Telenor said.

Another four Rakhine townships have been cut off for over seven months, in what has been labelled the world’s longest internet shutdown.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine to Bangladesh in 2017, amid reports of mass rape, murder and arson that lawyers in ongoing international lawsuits argue amounted to genocide.

The UN’s top court in January ordered Myanmar to prevent genocidal acts against the Rohingya.

Since 2017, Rakhine has been plunged into a separate crisis as Arakan Army insurgents fight Myanmar’s military for greater autonomy.

Rights groups fear the shutdown is at least partly aimed at censoring reports of abuses against both ethnically Rakhine and Rohingya civilians.

Two Rohingya women died in shelling last month that was blamed on the Myanmar military, which denied responsibility.

The UN has called the shutdown a “significant impediment” to its humanitarian operations in the state.

Freedom of expression advocacy group Article 19 said in a tweet that the latest shutdown was “alarming.”

Rohingya still left in Rakhine, live under apartheid-like conditions, unable to leave detention camps or their own townships while their ethnically Rakhine neighbours can travel more freely.


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