UN fears Myanmar human rights abuses in Internet shutdown

The Myanmar government ordered mobile phone operators to shut down all Internet data across at least eight townships in Rakhine and one in neighboring Chin states. (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2019

UN fears Myanmar human rights abuses in Internet shutdown

  • Mobile phone operators ordered to shut down all internet data across at least eight townships in Rakhine and one in neighboring Chin states
  • The decree was made under Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law

YANGON: An Internet blackout in parts of Myanmar could be cover for “gross human rights violations” in an area where a brutal army crackdown has already forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee, a UN rights investigator said.
The military is locked in battle with the Arakan Army (AA), insurgents fighting for more autonomy for the region’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
On Friday the government took the unprecedented step of ordering mobile phone operators to shut down all Internet data across at least eight townships in Rakhine and one in neighboring Chin states.
“I fear for all civilians there,” said UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, calling for the immediate lifting of restrictions.
The military’s “clearance operations” can be a “cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population,” she said, referencing alleged mass atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
The decree was made under the Telecommunications Law, hitting all mobile operators for an unspecified period.
Telenor Group said the Ministry of Transport and Communications justified the measure, saying the Internet was being used to “coordinate illegal activities.”
Thousands of troops have been deployed to the western region, which has seen more than 35,000 people fleeing their homes to escape heavy artillery fire in the violence that has spilled over into Chin state.
Both sides stand accused of committing abuses and dozens of civilians have been killed in crossfire and shellings, even while taking refuge in monasteries.
The military confirmed it shot dead six Rakhine detainees in late April.
The violence has even spread to near the Rakhine state capital Sittwe with insurgents attacking a naval vessel during the weekend, killing two.
Few people own personal computers so the mobile Internet blackout has effectively shut most people off from the outside world.
AFP spoke by phone Tuesday to local residents in three of the affected townships, all angry and afraid.
“We can’t share information which is really dangerous and frightening when you’re living in a conflict area,” said Myo Kyaw Aung, Sapa Htar village administrator in Minbya township, by phone.
Rakhine is also home to several hundred thousand remaining Rohingya, many confined to squalid camps.
Around 740,000 of the stateless group were driven into Bangladesh in a 2017 army crackdown.


Palestinian journalists protest wounding of colleague

Updated 17 November 2019

Palestinian journalists protest wounding of colleague

  • Muath Amarneh has been in an Israeli hospital since he was hit in the eye Friday during clashes
  • Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied Sunday with one eye covered in solidarity

JERUSALEM: “The eyes of truth will never be blinded,” protesters’ placards read, as Palestinian journalists wore eye patches Sunday to decry the wounding of a colleague in the occupied West Bank.
Muath Amarneh has been in an Israeli hospital since he was hit in the eye Friday during clashes between Israeli border police and Palestinian demonstrators in the village of Surif, close to Hebron in the southern West Bank.
Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied Sunday — protesting with one eye covered in solidarity.
Amarneh, who is being treated in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, said he was some way from the protesters when he was hit by what he believes was Israeli fire.
“After the clashes started, I was standing to the side wearing a flak jacket with press markings and a helmet,” the freelance cameraman told AFP on Sunday.
“Suddenly I felt something hit my eye, I thought it was a rubber bullet or a stone. I put my hand to my eye and found nothing.”
“I couldn’t see and my eye was completely gone.”
He said doctors at the hospital told him a fragment of metal, about 2 centimeters long, pierced the eye and settled behind it near the brain.
Amarneh’s cousin Tareq, accompanying him in hospital, said doctors planned to extract the metal but changed their minds after discovering they could also damage the right eye or even trigger bleeding in the brain.
A spokesman for the Israeli police denied that the photographer was targeted, saying fire was “not directed at all” toward him.
“The security forces operated in the area in front of dozens of rioters, some of them masked, who threw stones at officers and burned tires,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“The response by the forces was using non-lethal means in order to disperse the rioters.”
Amarneh, who comes from the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, claimed he was targeted as a journalist.
“There is an unnatural and ugly targeting of journalists,” the father-of-two said.
Since the incident Palestinian journalists have launched a campaign, with protests in several cities in the West Bank.
In Bethlehem Sunday, border police dispersed a sit-in by journalists at the checkpoint north of the city, an AFP journalist said.
Demonstrators wore eye patches and held signs aloft.
Tear gas cannisters were fired by the border police, the journalist said.
Seven people were lightly wounded, according to Palestinian health officials.
In the city of Tulkarem, about 250 journalists took part in a sit-in to show solidarity, according to journalists present.
A video and photos of Amarneh spread immediately after his injury, with journalists trying to carry him with blood flowing from his left eye.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate says 60 journalists have been hit by live ammunition this year, the majority in Gaza — an enclave where violent weekly protests along the border often lead to dozens of demonstrators being wounded.