Internet blackout in Rakhine enters second year

22 June 2020
Internet blackout in Rakhine enters second year
Myanmar's Rakhine state has been suffering from long-running conflict (AFP Photo/Richard SARGENT)

The internet shutdown in Myanmar's conflict-ridden northwest, described by rights groups as the world's longest, entered a second year Sunday with locals and campaigners appealing for an end to the blackout as coronavirus fears grip the region.

The Myanmar military has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since January 2019 against the Arakan Army (AA).

The government shut down mobile data in several townships across Rakhine state and neighbouring Chin state on June 21 last year, causing panic among residents desperate for information about the unrest.

Human Rights Watch had called on Friday for an immediate end to "the world's longest government-enforced internet shutdown".

"It's critical for civilians to get the information needed to stay safe" during a global pandemic, said HRW's Linda Lakhdhir.

The country has so far recorded 287 coronavirus cases including six deaths, but experts fear the low numbers are due to a lack of testing.

A government official said earlier this month the internet shutdown would continue until at least August 1 in eight townships.

Telecom companies said the government ordered the blackout to prevent "illegal activities".

Few in Myanmar have personal computers, with the majority relying on mobile phones to access the internet for communications and information -- making those under the blackout especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Schoolteacher Aung Win in Buthidaung township said he was unable to access lessons from the education department before the new academic year begins in July.

"We just want the internet back as soon as possible," he said.