Myanmar social media users are increasingly being arrested and imprisoned for posts deemed to denounce or criticize the military junta.
Since the coup in February 2021, the junta has been monitoring social media use to track down suspected dissidents. In the latest online crackdown, junta forces have traced and arrested people for changing their Facebook profile photos to black or sharing comments mourning the junta’s air strike in Pazi Gyi Village, Sagaing Region, which killed around 170 people, mostly children and women, on April 11—its deadliest such attack so far.
Journalist U Kyaw Min Swe, an actress and two singers were arrested and charged with incitement over Facebook posts relating to the air strike on Pazi Gyi or for turning their profiles black in memory of the victims.
They are just four of the many arrests related to Facebook posts this month. According to the junta’s propaganda channels and local media, dozens of others have been arrested in Yangon, Bago, Ayeyarwady, Mandalay and Sagaing regions, and Mon, Shan and Karen states, and elsewhere. The exact number of arrests is not known as it is believed there are many unreported cases.
Recent cases reported by local media include the arrest of a businesswoman from North Dagon in Yangon who shared a Facebook post about junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun’s temporary monkhood, a photographer from Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township, a woman from Mon State who was released from prison in the junta’s amnesty last year, and two young men from Shwebo Town.
The junta opened cases against the detainees under incitement and terrorism charges, which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Ma Wai Phyo Myint, a digital rights advocate and Asia Pacific Policy Analyst from Access Now, an advocacy group for digital rights around the world, said the junta is increasingly targeting people over social media posts and arresting them as a mechanism to instill fear in the public, adding that the arrests are an attempt to control the civic space, not only offline but also online.
She said that doxing—publishing private or identifying information about someone—on Telegram continues unabated, as personal information and sexual content is shared on pro-junta channels with thousands of followers.
The pro-junta Telegram accounts have persistently called for the arrest of supporters of opposition groups, providing names, addresses and personal information and sharing screen shots of Facebook posts critical of the regime.
The junta announced in January last year that anyone who posts and shares social media content supporting resistance forces such as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the National Unity Government (NUG) and the People’s Defense Force (PDF), which it has declared as terrorist organizations, would face jail terms and the seizure of both moveable and immovable property.
Source : The Irrawaddy