It is possible that thousands of people in the war-torn area of western Myanmar know nothing about the coronavirus because they have not had access to the Internet for a year, writes CNN.
Namely, in June last year, the government of Myanmar, led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, shut down the Internet in nine cities due to concerns that it was being used to fuel clashes between the military and rebels.
About 80,000 people do not have internet access
The internet was restored in one city this May, but eight others, home to a total of about 80,000 people, are still under information blockade. Human Right Watch and Amnesty International claim that this puts people in danger. And not only because they can’t get information about potential human rights violations, but also because they don’t know anything about the coronavirus.
“With the conflict between Myanmar and the Arakan army in Rakhine State in the midst of a pandemic, it is crucial that citizens get information on how they can stay safe,” said Linda Lakhdir, a legal adviser at Human Right Watch.
So far, 292 cases of infection have been detected in Myanmar
According to the Ministry of Health in Myanmar as of Monday, 292 cases of infection have been detected in this country so far, six people have died, and a total of 64,532 have been tested.
Most cases have been reported in the towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung in the northern state of Rakhine where more than 100,000 Rohingya of the Islamic faith live in overcrowded camps. Many of them fled the country after a “cleansing operation” preceded by the 2018 uprising.
In the state of Rakhine, many do not know about the pandemic
When the epidemic began to spread earlier this year, the Suu Kyie government launched a national campaign to prevent the disease by promoting measures such as maintaining physical distance. But Htoot May, a member of the upper house of parliament from the Arkan National League for Democracy party, said on Sunday that many people living in the northern state of Rakhine and neighboring Chin had not received information from public health services circulating on Facebook, circular messages and official government websites.
“When I ask people in my constituency if they are aware of covida-19, I have to explain to them the global pandemic from the very beginning. I have to explain to them what maintaining physical distance is and how to practice hand hygiene, ”she said. She added that she can’t travel much because of covid-19 and that she can’t inform many people.
“They are not afraid of covida-19 because they know nothing about it. And at this moment, they are more worried about the fights, “she explained.
By the way, a conflict between the Myanmar army known as Tatmadaw and the well-armed Arakan army broke out in 2018. The reason is that the Arakan army wants more autonomy for Rakhine Buddhists who make up the majority in Rakhine state.
In the period from January to May, more than 150 people were killed
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As the conflict escalated, the disconnection of internet access led to more civilian deaths caused by the inability to obtain timely real-time information, according to a letter released by a coalition of politicians and various Rakhine groups on Sunday. Despite the shutdown of the internet, clashes continued. Between January and May, 151 civilians were killed and 344 wounded, according to a letter addressed to Suu Kyieji.
“Freedom of speech and access to information are the basis of democracy. Nowadays, internet access is a democratic standard. Equality means timely information from the sphere of economy, education, health and society “, the letter reads.
“This is a conflict in which neither side can win on the battlefield,” said independent analyst Richard Horsey, adding that Myanmar must reach a political solution to this crisis. The alternative is the current state of war in which both sides are accused of atrocities.
Khine Kyaw Moe, a member of the National Rakhine Party, claims that without internet access, these crimes remain undocumented and unreported.
“Both sides are violating human rights, and without the Internet, people cannot report these things to journalists and international NGOs,” she said.
In Myanmar, severe penalties have been introduced for those who do not comply with the restrictive measures
As in many countries, a curfew has been introduced in Myanmar, larger gatherings are prohibited and quarantine is mandatory for those coming from foreign countries.
The government has also introduced penalties for those who do not follow the rules. Among them is a prison sentence for those who do not adhere to quarantine, and it is prescribed for them. At least 500 people, including children, have been sentenced to prison.
The government’s response seems to have helped prevent the spread of the infection, but it is not without criticism.
Elections are being held in Myanmar at the end of the year
“Throwing thousands of people into overcrowded and unhygienic prisons refutes the purpose of preventing the spread of covida-19,” said Phil Robertson of Human Right Watch.
Therefore, Suu Kyie’s approach to the pandemic could hurt the elections to be held later this year.
MP Htoot May said the fighting in Rakhine and the denial of internet access could also lead to a reduction in voters supporting Suu Kyie and her National League for Democracy party.
But on the other hand, Suu Kyie’s response to the coronavirus might not affect the election results at all given that a large number of people who do not have internet access know nothing about it.
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