Netizens are debating the veracity of a rumor suggesting that the recently launched telecoms operator MyTel has subtly endorsed the nationalist 969 Movement, an islamophobic group whose stated goals include preventing Muslim population growth in Myanmar.
The rumor stems from MyTel’s offering of phone numbers that begin with the digits 0969, and some say that even the date and time of the operator’s launch on June 9 – the ninth day of the sixth month – was a reference to the movement.
— Aung Aung (@Aungaungsittwe) March 17, 2018
The credibility of the rumor is compounded by the fact that a major shareholder in MyTel is a conglomerate owned by Myanmar’s military, has been accused of crimes against humanity for its ongoing mass displacement of Rohingya Muslims from the country. (The other shareholders are a consortium of 11 other Myanmar companies and Viettel, which is owned by Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense.)
Moreover, Myanmar’s military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, paid respect last month to Wirathu, a famously islamophobic monk who has been the 969 Movement’s highest-profile backer. The senior general also reportedly gave MyTel its name and made the operator’s first phone call in February, which was to his Vietnamese counterpart. He and around 50 other high-ranking military officials attended the operator’s nationwide launch last weekend.
Some have cautioned against reading too much into the symbolism surrounding MyTel’s launch. One netizen pointed out that all Myanmar phone numbers must begin with 09 and that even some Ooredoo numbers contain 969.
Furthermore, the digits 969 are meaningful even to Buddhists who are not affiliated with the islamophobic movement, as they represent the nine attributes of the Lord Buddha, the six attributes of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the monastic community.
However, on the other end of the spectrum are those whose hatred of MyTel stems from the company’s links to the military itself, regardless of whether it has made subtle overtures to the islamophobic movement. One netizen called for a boycott against MyTel as vengeance for the military’s opposition to minting new currency bearing the face of General Aung San, Myanmar’s most beloved independence hero and father of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The netizen wrote: “When someone calls me with a number that starts with 969, I will silence my phone and let it ring. Won’t pick it up. You can call me if you dare.” The declaration was accompanied by an image of a sign, apparently one hung outside a mobile shop, that says: “San store doesn’t sell Mytel Sim Cards and Top-Up Cards.”
And perhaps most sensible of all are the calls for a boycott against MyTel on humanitarian grounds.
MyTel is the most expensive mobile network in Burma. It funds the military, costing lives of ethnic people every day. Taking funds from health and education to buy guns and jets. Blocking democratic constitutional reform. #boycottMyTel
— Mark Farmaner (@MarkFarmaner) June 9, 2018