Under fire Myanmar junta blocked Facebook and other messaging services on Thursday in the name of ensuring stability following a coup and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The move to silence online activists came after Myanmar police filed charges against Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi for illegally importing communications equipment, and as international pressure grew on the junta to accept the results of November elections won by her party in a landslide.
Inside Myanmar, opposition to the junta had emerged very strongly on Facebook, which is the main internet platform for much of the country and underpins communications for business and government.
People in Yangon and other cities banged on pots and pans and honked car horns for a second night on Wednesday in protest against Monday’s coup. Images of the protests had circulated widely on Facebook.
The social network has also been used to share images of a campaign of disobedience by staff at government hospitals across the country, who accuse the army of putting its interests above a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 3,100 people, one of the highest tolls in Southeast Asia.
The Ministry of Communications and Information said Facebook, used by half of Myanmar’s 53 million people, would be blocked until Feb. 7.
“Currently the people who are troubling the country’s stability … are spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook,” the ministry said in a letter.
Disruptions were patchy however. Some people found they could still access Facebook even if connections were slow. Some used VPNs to evade the blockage.
Suu Kyi has not been seen since her arrest in the early hours of Monday morning along with other top leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD).
An NLD official has said she is under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, but there has been no word on her whereabouts from the junta.
The NLD won about 80% of the vote in the Nov. 8 polls, according to the election commission, a result the military has refused to accept, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.
The military had ruled Myanmar from 1962 until Suu Kyi’s party came to power in 2015 under a constitution that guarantees the generals a major role in government.
The junta headed by Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing has declared a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hold fair elections, but has not said when.