As Norwegian telecommunications provider Telenor continues to evaluate whether it will keep its Myanmar business unit, reports have emerged that the country’s military is barring Myanmar telco provider executives from travelling beyond its borders without permission.
According to a report by news agency Reuters, which cited a person with knowledge of the matter, Myanmar’s military junta, via the country’s Department of Posts and Telecommunications, issued a confidential order last month telling senior telco execs that they needed to seek special authorisation to leave the country.
It is thought that the travel restrictions, which reportedly apply to both Myanmar nationals and foreigners, were ordered in a bid to convince the country’s main telco provider firms to implement intercept technology allowing authorities to spy on calls, according to Reuters.
Telenor Myanmar's CEO is Jon Omund Revhaug. Based in Yangon, he came to the role in 2020 after serving as CEO of the Telenor Procurement Company from Singapore for three years.
On 1 February 2021, Myanmar’s military declared a state of emergency, subsequently shutting down mobile internet across the country. Other internet services have also been increasingly restricted, according to Telenor.
“The effect of this is felt most acutely on mobile internet subscribers, who account for over 99 per cent of Myanmar’s internet subscribers,” said a joint statement signed by Telenor and a number of other providers comprising a group called the Global Network Initiative.
“Nationwide restrictions to mobile internet and wireless broadband have made the Myanmar people more economically and physically vulnerable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and prevented them from exercising their right to freedom of expression and association.
"Moreover, such restrictions may undermine the right to privacy and security of communications guaranteed by the Myanmar Constitution,” said the statement, which was published in early May.
As reported by ABC News, Myanmar's military forces declared a state of emergency and mounted what was effectively a coup in early February, swooping on the homes of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other figures in her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
The series of arrests and subsequent detainment of key individuals followed the country’s November 2020 elections, in which a majority of the population reportedly voted for the NLD. The military subsequently claimed the poll was marred by fraud.
In early May, Telenor Group, as one of the major telco players in the country, announced an impairment of Telenor Myanmar due to the worsening economic and business environment outlook and a deteriorating security and human rights situation, with limited prospects of improvement.
On 2 July, the telco said it was continuing to evaluate whether it would continue to operate its telco business in Myanmar as trading conditions in the country deteriorate amid the ongoing political turmoil, dismissing reports that it was seeking to sell the Myanmar business unit.
However, the company's future in Myanmar is far from certain, and it remains to be seen if it will ultimately pull the pin on its Myanmar business.
“Due to the continued situation, Telenor Group is in the process of evaluating various options with regards to its presence in the country. The evaluations are ongoing and Telenor Group will not make any further comments,” the company said.