The military authorities in charge of Myanmar broadened a ban on social media following this week’s coup, shutting access to Twitter and Instagram, while street protests continued to expand Saturday as people gathered again to show their opposition to the army takeover.
About 1,000 protesters — factory workers and students prominent among them — marched Saturday morning through the streets of Yangon, the country’s biggest city. By noon, more than 100 police in riot gear had been deployed to block them from moving ahead. Members of the crowd shouted “Military dictatorship should fall” and “Down with dictatorship.”
Graduate lawyers from Myanmar’s Yadanabon University on Saturday became the country’s latest civil society group to show their opposition to the military coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
Posing for a picture, more than two dozen lawyers donned red ribbons and showed the three-fingered protest salute. They held a banner reading: “We condemn the unlawful coup; No to dictatorship.”
Social media shutdown
In addition to Facebook and related apps, the military government on Friday ordered communications operators and internet service providers to cut access to Twitter and Instagram. The statement said that some people are trying to use both platforms to spread fake news.
Social media users expressed concern over unconfirmed reports that all internet access might soon be cut off, at least through the weekend. Some say they had lost service on their mobile networks.
Netblocks, which tracks social media disruptions and shutdowns, confirmed the loss of Twitter service starting 10 p.m. Instagram was already subject to restrictions.
In a statement, Twitter said it is “deeply concerned” about the order to block internet services in Myanmar and vowed to “advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns.”
“It undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard,” its spokesperson said.
State media are heavily censored and Facebook in particular has become the main source of news and information in the country. It is also used to organize protests.
For the fourth night Friday, the cacophony of noise from windows and balconies reverberated through Yangon neighborhoods, as resistance to the coup and arrests of activists and politicians gathered steam.
UN contact with military
Earlier Friday, nearly 300 elected lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party declared themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of the people and asked for international recognition as the country’s government.
They were supposed to take their seats Monday in a new session of Parliament following November elections when the military announced it was taking power for a year.
The military accused Suu Kyi and her party of failing to act on its complaints that the election was fraudulent, though the election commission said it had no found no evidence to support the claims.
In New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged Friday that the United Nations will do everything it can to unite the international community and create conditions for the military coup in Myanmar to be reversed.
He told a news conference it is “absolutely essential” to carry out the Security Council’s calls for a return to democracy, respect for the results of the November elections, and release of all people detained by the military, “which means the reversal of the coup that took place.”
Guterres said Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, had a first contact with the military since the coup and expressed the U.N.’s strong opposition to the takeover.
According to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, she reiterated to Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Gen. Soe Win “the secretary-general’s strong condemnation of the military’s action that disrupted the democratic reforms that were taking place in the country.”
Senior aide to Suu Kyi detained
In addition to 134 officials and lawmakers who were detained in the coup, some 18 independent activists were also held, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, who added that some have been released.
On Friday, Suu Kyi’s senior aide, Win Htein, was picked up in Mayangone township. He told BBC in a phone call earlier that he was being arrested for sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are also under house arrest and have been charged with minor offences, seen by many as merely providing a legal veneer for their detention. She was described by her party as being in good health.
Also Friday, hundreds of students and teachers took to the streets to demand the military hand power back to elected politicians. Demonstrations spread to several parts of the country, even in the tightly controlled capital of Naypyitaw.
“We will never be together with them,” lecturer Nwe Thazin said of the military at a protest at the Yangon University of Education. “We want that kind of government to collapse as soon as possible.”
Myanmar was under military rule for five decades after a 1962 coup, and Suu Kyi’s five years as leader since 2015 had been its most democratic period despite continued use of repressive colonial-era laws and persecution of minority Rohingya Muslims.