One city was rebuilt in May, but eight others, with a total population of about 800,000, remain under information closure.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International argue that prolonged suspension puts lives at risk, not only because it prevents people from reporting possible human rights abuses, but also because it has cut them off from public health campaigns for the coronavirus pandemic.
A handful of cases have been found in the towns of Maungda and Boothdown in northern Rakhine, where more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims live in overcrowded camps. Many have fled “cleansing operations” launched by the military against the Rohingya rebels in 2018. The UN is calling on the Myanmar army to face an international tribunal on charges of genocide against Rohingya Muslims. Rakin’s booksellers, made homeless by recent battles, also live in camps in the area.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world earlier this year, Suu Kyi’s government launched a “No Man Left Behind” information campaign to prevent diseases such as social distancing.
But MP Htoot Mae, who represents Arakan’s National League for Democracy in the upper house of the Myanmar Union parliament, said on Sunday that many people living in the northern state of Rakhine and neighboring Qin do not receive public health reports. Facebook, messaging apps and government websites.
“When I ask people in my constituency if they are familiar with Covid-19, I have to explain the global pandemic to them from the beginning,” Htoot May said. “I have to explain to them what social distancing is and how to practice proper hand hygiene.”
“I can’t travel widely because of Covid-19, obviously, so there are only so many people I can warn,” he said.
“They’re not afraid of Covid-19 because they don’t know about it. At this point, they’re much more concerned about the fighting.”
CNN approached State Counsel Zau Htai’s spokesman for Myanmar for comment.
Fighting erupted in late 2018 between the Myanmar army known as Tatmadau and the well-equipped Arakan army, which wants more autonomy for Rakhine Buddhists, the majority of the population in Rakhine state.
Clashes have escalated despite an internet eclipse, with 151 civilians killed and 344 injured in crossfire between January and May, according to the letter.
“This is not a conflict that can be won on both sides of the battlefield,” Myanmar independent analyst Richard Horsey told The International Crisis Group. “This is essentially a political issue where the people of Rakhine want more autonomy and talk more about their future. (Myanmar) needs to develop a political response and that is currently lacking.”
The alternative is an ongoing war, Hursey said, and both Arakan’s army and the Myanmar military are accused of atrocities. Khine Kyaw Moe, an MP representing the Rakhine national party, said that without an internet connection, these atrocities would go undeclared and undocumented.
“Both armies can commit human rights abuses, and without the Internet, people are cut off by journalists and local and international NGOs who can report these things,” Hein Kyau Mou said.
Sunday’s open letter to Suu Kyi, signed by Rakine’s 79 stakeholders, said it was looking for a political solution that would begin with the government’s recovery online.
“Freedom of speech and access to information is the foundation of democracy. In this age, access to the internet is the democratic standard. Equality requires ready-made information about the economy, education, health and society,” the letter said.
Like many other nations, Myanmar has imposed commandants, bans on large gatherings and a quarantine period for foreign arrivals in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus.
The government has also introduced penalties for non-compliance, including prison sentences for those who violate quarantine orders. At least 500 people, including children, have been sentenced to one year in prison.
The country’s reaction seems to have led to the spread of the virus, but it has not gone unnoticed by critics.
Su Kiy’s approach to the pandemic could work against it as the country prepares to vote in elections later this year.
MP Hatut Mei said the fighting in Rakhine and the subsequent suspension of communications could also destroy voter support for Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy.
“In 2015, I believed in Suu Kyi and was happy to work with her,” said MP Htoot Mei. “I would think that Aung San Suu Kyi would help people in remote areas to access the Internet, not cut them off.”
“Human rights are not something that Aung San Suu Kyi can just talk about. She has to practice it.”
On the other hand, Suu Kyi’s record of the virus could have no effect on its election result – because due to the shutdown of the Internet, a large number of people in the far west of the country may never know it happened.