Myanmar’s military government restricts the free flow of news and blocks VPNs

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military government has launched a major effort to block free communications on the Internet, cutting off access to virtual private networks (VPNs) that can be used to block banned websites and services. bypass.

According to mobile phone operators, internet service providers, a major opposition group and media reports, the effort to restrict access to information began in late May.

The military government that came to power in February 2021 after ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has made several previous attempts to curb internet traffic, especially in the months immediately following their takeover.

According to local media reports, the attack on internet usage involves random searches of people’s mobile phones to check for VPN applications, with a fine if found, although it is unclear whether payments are an official measure.

On Friday, the Burmese-language service of the US government-funded Radio Free Asia said about 25 people from Myanmar’s central coastal Ayeyarwady region were arrested and fined by security forces this week after VPN apps were found on their mobile phones.

While the military faces strong armed challenges from pro-democracy guerrillas across the country, amounting to a civil war, it has also regularly made a habit of cutting off civilian communications in areas where fighting is taking place. While this may serve tactical purposes, it also makes it difficult to make evidence of alleged human rights violations public.

According to a report released last month by Athan, a group that advocates freedom of expression in Myanmar, nearly 90 of the 330 townships across the country have had internet access or phone service – or both – cut off by authorities.

File photo of a monk holding a smartphone as he watches protesters march in Yangon, Myanmar. PHOTO: AP