On 1 February, the unthinkable happened: the military took back power in Myanmar. After only a few years of semi-democracy, the military was again the sole power in the poorest country in Southeast Asia.
Since the National League of Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi won the 2015 election, the space for civil society and media slowly increased. There still were arbitrary arrests of critical journalists – the number of political prisoners actually increased under the NLD – but that was also a sign of journalists writing more critical stories about previously untouchable topics like corruption and land grabs.
Now journalists are thrown back into the dark age of mass arrests, torture and arbitrary detention. Even lawyers defending journalists and human rights defenders are targeted themselves. There is no independent judiciary anymore, no resemblance at all of democratic institutions.
The military junta ordered telecommunication and Internet Service Providers to install intercept spyware to identify anyone resisting their power grab. As a result, Telenor decided to leave Myanmar partly because their employees were threatened to comply with the orders. Telenor sold its Myanmar operations for less than 14 percent of its value.
The interception practices include the use of “[a]n “AI system” that enabled the team to monitor the calls, text messages and location of selected users in real time,” Frontier reported. In addition, public and private Facebook groups are monitored to identify users to charge under section 505-A of the Penal Code. “If you don’t use a VPN, they can track what you’re looking at,” an unidentified MPT source told Frontier.
During the past years, Global Ground Media has trained media organisations in digital security when working on sensitive stories. This became more important after the coup, as all journalists, human rights workers and employees of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) are targeted.
During the past 6 months, we doubled down on our efforts of training media organisations and INGOs on circumventing digital surveillance, protect devices and safe operating procedures. We also discuss physical security elements including, preparing for office raids, encountering checkpoints, arrest and detention best practices.
Under the current circumstances, no one is 100 percent safe, especially not journalists and human rights defenders. But you should protect yourself, your partners, sources and family as best as possible with digital security tools and physical safety procedures.