Myanmar junta bans satellite dishes in media crackdown

Myanmar’s military junta has banned satellite dishes, threatening prison sentences for anyone who violates the measure, as it intensifies its crackdown on access to independent news outlets.

The junta, which faces unanimous opposition from the public and has struggled to maintain order, has imposed increasingly tough restrictions on communication since seizing power on 1 February.

Mobile data has been cut for most people for more than 50 days, while broadband access has also been subject to severe restrictions. Several media outlets have been banned but continue to operate in hiding, either publishing online or broadcasting for television.

On Wednesday, the military-controlled newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported that news agencies were using illegal satellite dishes to broadcast programmes that “harm the state security, the rule of law and community peace and tranquillity”. Anyone who installs satellite dishes could face a one-year prison sentence or K500,000 ($320) as a fine, it said.

More than 80 journalists have been arrested in recent months, according to the independent Irrawaddy news outlet, which is itself facing legal action under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code. This law states that publishing information that causes fear or spreads false news is punishable by up to three years in prison.

On Monday, Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese journalist, was charged under the same law, according to a report by Kyodo news agency. Kitazumi became the first foreign reporter to face charges since the coup.

Thousands of people have been arrested under the junta, including 3,677 people who have been sentenced or are in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group. It reported that 769 people have been killed by the military.

Despite the risks of military violence, protesters have continued to gather to oppose the coup. Teachers, students and parents marched outside schools in Mandalay on Wednesday morning, according to local media, calling for a boycott of the education system under the junta. On Tuesday night, a candlelit vigil was held in northern Kachin state.

Earlier this week, five protesters were killed and another injured in a blast in the southern region of Bago. State media said the group were trying to plant a bomb, and that Thet Win Hlaing, a 35-year old former MP for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, was among those who died.

A number of blasts have been reported in Yangon and other cities over recent weeks, including some targeting government and military property.

On Tuesday, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations told the US Congress to intensify pressure on the military by imposing more targeted sanctions. Kyaw Moe Tun called for measures against the state-run Maynamar oil and gas company Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, and the state-owned bank Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank.

“I wish to stress that Myanmar is not just witnessing another major setback to democracy, but also the crisis is threatening the regional peace and security,” he said.

The US, along with several western countries, has condemned the coup and imposed sanctions on the generals as well as some of their family members and businesses.