(Bangkok) – The Myanmar junta added a ban on satellite television to existing restrictions on the internet and media, tightening its grip over information in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 4, 2021, the ruling State Administration Council announced that anyone using satellite dishes to watch television faces up to one year in prison or a fine of K500,000 (US$320).
The military junta claimed that “illegal organizations and news agencies” were broadcasting programs via satellite that threaten state security. The ban appears targeted at independent Burmese language broadcasters such as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Mizzima, which have continued broadcasting via satellite since the junta revoked their operating licenses in March. The ban will also affect foreign news channels broadcast via satellite into Myanmar.
“The satellite TV ban is a blatant attempt to deny access to independent news broadcasts and further isolate Myanmar’s people,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor. “The junta should immediately withdraw its outrageous blanket censorship and end its relentless assault on news reporting.”
The ban on satellite television is part of the military’s full-scale attack on the country’s media, Human Rights Watch said. On May 4, the junta also announced it was banning two more media outlets, Kachin-based 74 Media and Shan-based Tachileik News Agency, increasing the number of banned media outlets to eight. Many of those outlets, including 74 Media and Tachileik News, have responded with defiance to the junta’s bans, vowing to continue their reporting.
In addition to banning media outlets, the security forces have aggressively targeted journalists for arrest. At least 71 journalists have been arrested since the February 1 coup, of whom at least 48 remain in detention. The authorities have charged many of those detained, including Japanese freelance reporter Yuki Kitazumi, with violating a new provision in the penal code adopted by the junta that makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” Those convicted face up to three years in prison.
The authorities have imposed severe restrictions on the internet, making it very difficult for people to access or to share information. Mobile internet data and wireless broadband have been turned off for more than six weeks, and Facebook and other social media platforms popular in Myanmar have been blocked since the coup.
“The Myanmar junta’s increasingly desperate efforts to block those inside the country from accessing independent news and information won’t hide the truth about its ongoing violations of rights,” Lakhdhir said. “Concerned governments should use their wide array of tools, including arms embargos and targeted sanctions, to pressure the junta to end its rights abuses and bring those responsible to account.”