Myanmar’s internet suppression

Photo of demonstrators in Yangon, Myanmar, during a protest against the military coup on Feb. 15, 2021.

Myanmar’s internet suppression

In Myanmar, the junta’s intensifying crackdowns on protesters in the street are mirrored by its rising restrictions online.

Myanmar’s internet suppression

In Myanmar, the junta’s intensifying crackdowns on protesters in the street are mirrored by its rising restrictions online.

In the early hours of Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup that has ignited months of mass protests. The military junta’s security forces have since killed more than 550 civilians in crackdowns on the pro-democracy protesters, including children.

To try to suppress protests, the junta has imposed increasing restrictions on internet access, culminating in a near total shutdown as of April 2. That has made it extremely difficult for people to access information, upload videos of protests, or organize. These tactics have also crippled businesses and limited access to medical information during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Myanmar junta spokesperson did not respond to calls seeking comment. At a March 23 press conference, spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said the junta had no immediate plans to ease internet restrictions because violence was being provoked online.

Protesters in Myanmar, who asked to stay anonymous, told Reuters they were terrified about being shut off from the world, with no way to broadcast news of the protests or of the army’s killings to those outside of Myanmar.

“We Myanmar people are in the dark now,” said one young protester. “News from Myanmar is going to disappear,” another added.

Internet connectivity

Governments around the world are increasingly using internet restrictions during political crises as a tool to limit free expression and hide human rights abuses, according to data from the digital rights organization Access Now. The U.N. Human Rights Council has condemned such intentional disruptions as a human rights violation.

“Whenever the internet is shut down during such critical moments we would hear or document or see reports of human rights abuses, and that is what is happening in Myanmar,” said Felicia Anthonio, a campaigner with Access Now. “The government is cracking down on protesters to ensure they do not let the rest of the world know what is happening.”

Since the coup, the junta has ordered telecom companies to carry out dozens of shutdowns. These shutdowns targeted mobile and wireless internet, which is the only available internet for most in the country.

Facebook blackout and targeted restrictions

Before the current internet blackout, Myanmar’s junta continually added severe restrictions on how people could use it.

By Feb. 4, all of Myanmar’s major internet providers blocked access to the social media platform Facebook on orders from the junta. About half of Myanmar’s 54 million people use Facebook, which for many is synonymous with the internet. By the end of the following day, Twitter and Instagram were blocked as well. These platforms had been a key tool for organizing and sharing information about protests.

Rally opposing the military coup | Feb. 10 | Yangon, Myanmar
Protesters running away from stun grenades and bullets | March 7 | Yangon, Myanmar

Over the next two months, the restrictions escalated. As of April 2, all mobile data and wireless broadband internet has been shut down, cutting off most of the Myanmar population from the internet. Only fixed-line connections remain, which few people have access to.

Additionally, Myanmar’s junta has ordered internet providers in at least one city, Bago, to share the identities of fixed broadband subscribers, according to two sources and an official government order reviewed by Reuters. Residents in the city of Kalay said on April 5 that the fixed fiber internet was not working.

Escalating internet suppression

Until Feb. 14, Norwegian telecom company Telenor had published regular updates on the orders it received from the junta. The company stopped out of concern for its employees, a Telenor spokesperson told Reuters.

Police stand on a road during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 3
Police stand on a road during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar | Reuters | March 3

Slow internet speeds

Even when the internet was not shut down, slower speeds made it harder to use.

Some digital rights groups Reuters spoke with viewed these slowdowns as evidence of “throttling,” or intentional delays ordered by the government. Others speculated it might be caused by damaged wires or stress on the infrastructure as a side effect of the government’s restrictions.

Though the causes are unknown, during times of slow speed, uploading and downloading large amounts of data becomes much harder, if not impossible. Sharing videos and live streaming – two common tactics of the protesters – become especially difficult.

Evading Restrictions

Despite the junta’s efforts, people in Myanmar have found ways to bypass many of these restrictions.

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, create a private tunnel between a device and the internet. Any information – such as what websites someone is browsing or what files are being uploaded – is encrypted by the VPN and becomes unreadable to others along the information path. That means internet service providers can’t tell if you are trying to visit a blocked website and will likely let the information through.

Demand for VPNs has skyrocketed since the coup. However, some Myanmar residents have told Reuters that they found some of the VPNs they used were subsequently blocked.

Rising Google searches for VPN in Myanmar

While VPNs can grant access to Facebook or other blocked websites, they don’t work when there is no internet access, and they exacerbate slow speeds.

Others in Myanmar have been able to obtain Thai SIM cards, some of which access mobile data through telecommunication companies that are not executing shutdown orders. As the latest shutdown loomed, groups also shared radio frequencies, offline apps that work without a data connection, and tips for using SMS messages to communicate without data services.

“Despite the difficulties, citizen journalists and media are posting in every possible way,” journalist Thar Lon Zaung Htet, 37, told Reuters in February. “The important thing is we show the world what’s happening.”

Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb. 6, 2021

Visuals credits

Opening photo: Demonstrators hold placards and a cutout with the image of Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar | Feb. 15, 2021 | REUTERS/Stringer

Final photo: Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar | Feb. 6, 2021 | REUTERS/Stringer

Videos: Obtained by Reuters


Internet connectivity and internet speed data provided by Monash IP Observatory, Monash Business School, powered by KASPR Datahaus

Website/platform blockages data collected from and Reuters reporting

VPN data provided by


KASPR Datahaus measures internet connectivity and speed in Myanmar every hour using a sample of active IP addresses. The sample includes all identifiable IP addresses throughout Myanmar except in the most densely-populated area of Yangon, where more than half of identifiable IP addresses were randomly sampled. It includes mobile data from cell towers but is primarily fixed-line and wireless internet connections.

Researchers at Monash University’s IP Observatory computed an expected range of connectivity for each hour, based on the number of active connections during undisrupted service between November 2020 and March 2021. This expected range, which fluctuates depending on time of day and week, was the baseline against which the researchers compared connectivity since the service disruptions began. They also adjusted the data to account for monthly sampling differences. To illustrate the normal range, Reuters has shown the average high point and average low point of this expected range.

The researchers used the same five-month period to establish a baseline for internet speed. They computed the expected hourly average ping response time, measured in milliseconds, of all IP addresses in the sample. They normalized the data to account for monthly sampling differences and variance in infrastructure quality. Hours with average speeds below the expected range were flagged as slow periods.

The hours shown on charts are in local time.

Additional reporting by

Fanny Potkin and Nerijus Adomaitis

Edited by

Matthew Tostevin, Kay Johnson, Janet Roberts and Jon McClure