Myanmar’s military dictatorship uses taxes and landmines against the Internet

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The military dictatorship of Myanmar (Burma) continues to try to prevent citizens from exchanging information and organizing. Because this is mainly done via telecommunications networks, she puts the thumbscrews there. The aim is evidently to reduce internet usage in general and to scare away the remaining users to the military network operator. Even with land mines.

With the military coup, the new rulers initially worked on Myanmar’s Internet and telephone lines. Because that paralyzed the economy, which meant that the complete shutdown was only able to hold for a short time. Social networks like Facebook remain banned.

The prosperity of the economy is particularly important for the dictatorship, because the military is financed through a huge corporate network. Because many company holdings are known, citizens boycott military companies as best they can. This has been felt in particular by the military’s mobile network operator, which has lost millions since then and is suffering from a strike by part of the workforce.

This was followed by extensive monitoring of all Telecom users and their messages and phone calls. The Norwegian network operator Telenor then wanted to sell its mobile network in Myanmar to Lebanese investors in order not to have to participate in the human rights violations. But the military junta has not given the necessary approval because it wants to force the sale to a local company, presumably at a symbolic price. In order to blackmail the enforcement of network monitoring, Myanmar has imposed a travel ban on telecom managers.

An order for new minimum prices for data transmission followed in December. Internet use has cost almost twice as much as before since December 8, 2021. Many people cannot afford that, not least the students who were little loved under the dictatorship. They fear for their future and are particularly politically disobedient.

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Just the day before, on December 7th, Meta had decided to remove the well-known military companies in Myanmar from Facebook and Instagram. A few hours earlier, representatives of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, sued Meta for USD 150 billion in damages. The US company did not react sufficiently to the fact that Facebook was used for years as a tool for genocide against the Rohingya.

Shortly after the turn of the year, the military junta is now introducing a new tax of 15% on telecommunications services. That is three times the usual sales tax. There is also an impressive fee for new SIM cards.

More and more ordinary citizens are being excluded from access to telecommunications. The wealthy can stay online, but have to finance the dictatorship through taxes. Officially, this is what the price increases are forto curb “extreme use of Internet services” and its impact on “employment and mental suffering of a new generation of students”.

Reports that the military has been laying landmines around radio towers of private network operators are particularly alarming. In some places, residents were warned by SMS not to approach the transmitter locations. Telenor Myanmar is said to have been the only network operator to have dared to confirm the mining by the military. The exact location of the mines is not known, however.

Officially, the internationally banned mines are supposed to protect the infrastructure. In fact, they prevent private network operators from maintaining their network facilities. Over time, this leads to a loss of quality and ultimately to the collapse of private networks, which gives the military-operated cellular network an enormous advantage. Its users can be controlled, monitored and cut off at any time more efficiently.


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