Telenor exits Myanmar 5 months after military coup

Norwegian telecommunications operator Telenor sold its operations in Myanmar for US$105 million to Lebanese investment group M1, the company announced in a statement online

Telenor also stated that all of its operations and services will continue without interruption.

“Further deterioration of the situation and recent developments in Myanmar form the basis for the decision to divest the company. In the present situation it has not been possible for Telenor to conduct an ordinary sales process,” Telenor wrote in a press release.

Rights groups are raising “serious concerns” about M1 Group’s purchase of Telenor Myanmar in light of the military’s continued assaults on freedom of expression and media freedom. In a statement, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said that the military junta is making it “impossible” to operate in the country without violating human rights and that the company’s exit was not “surprising.”

“Telenor was put between a rock and a hard place by the junta’s demands that it switch on phone intercept technology to help track customers who are politically opposing the military regime. The sad part is Telenor will likely be replaced by a company that is less principled in standing up to the junta’s rights abusing demands, and the Burmese people will be worse off because of it,” Robertson said.

“M1 has been involved in the telecommunications business in authoritarian contexts, including Syria where there are grave violations of privacy and freedom of expression,” Yadanar Maung, Justice For Myanmar spokesperson said.

“The corruption charges against members of the Makati family should also ring alarm bells for their business in Myanmar.”

M1 investment group is listed on a “Dirty List” by Burma Campaign UK, a list of international companies doing business with the military in Burma for their majority shareholder position in Irrawaddy Green Towers, a mobile phone tower company currently working with military-owned telecommunications company MyTel.

The news comes amidst rising concerns over the rise of a “digital surveillance state” in Myanmar. News organisations and rights groups have sounded the alarm for the use of “digital tools of repression” against the military junta’s political opponents.

According to Frontier, a cybersecurity team under the Myanmar Police Force was set up at the direction of the Ministry of Transport and Communications “to monitor calls and social media use” during the former NLD government’s tenure under the purview of “lawful interception.”

In May, Reuters also reported that telecom and internet service providers in Myanmar were “ordered to install intercept spyware” in the months leading up to the Feb. 1 coup.

Foreign and Myanmar nationals working as telecoms executives were also barred from leaving Myanmar without permission from authorities while facing pressure to implement spyware software on their networks. According to Reuters, Ooredoo and Telenor haven’t yet fully complied with directives from the military junta. 

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