[TODAY] Beware of collateral damage of Fica

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

Earlier this month, the Government tabled a Bill to enact the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica).

The legislation, if passed, will provide the Government with the powers to act against foreign interference that comes in the forms of hostile information campaigns and local proxies by foreign entities.

The Bill is underscored by the recognition that foreign interference takes place in both online and offline settings.

The swathe of provisions proposed will provide the Government, specifically the Minister for Home Affairs, with different mechanisms to prevent, detect and disrupt actions by foreign actors who interfere with domestic politics through influence operations.

The directives will be issued to social media companies, electronic services such as instant messaging apps and Internet access providers, and individuals who own or manage websites and blogs.

Given the rise of influence operations — also known as cyber-enabled foreign interference — globally, this Bill does not come as a surprise.

However, while Fica upgrades the Government’s arsenal to counter foreign interference in a digitalised age, it should not do so at the expense of people’s trust in the Government and diminish Singapore’s position as a global hub.

FIGHTING AN EVOLVING THREAT

Tabled two years after the passing of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), some might wonder what took Singapore so long to legislate against influence operations, given the prevalence of the problem in other countries.

In the past few years, countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States have introduced or passed bills to curtail foreign interference in elections and infrastructures.

The rapidly evolving nature of influence operations — in terms of the who, how and why — renders existing laws such as Pofma and the Political Donations Act toothless in countering hostile foreign actors.

There is a tendency for people to think of foreign powers as the main perpetrators of foreign influence.

The trend is evident from actions that have been taken by social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google (YouTube) to eradicate inauthentic behaviour originating from Russia, Iran, China and Turkey in the past few years.

However, hostile actors are not limited to foreign governments.

Facebook recently shared that most of the covert influence operations in Asia-Pacific are domestic. Research conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute uncovered “apolitical disinformation entrepreneurs” as masterminds.

The toolbox used by perpetrators of influence operations has also expanded.

While the “basic” and more crude forms of tactics, such as bots and fake accounts, are still being used, more covert techniques such as buzz accounts and pop culture fan communities are emerging.

Furthermore, hostile actors are often very adept at mixing and matching tactics, combining them to achieve devastating consequences.

PROTECTING PUBLIC TRUST AND GLOBAL HUB STATUS

To detect, disrupt and stop hostile information campaigns, the Bill includes a wide range of directives.

These include directing social media platforms to disclose information even before the content is published, requiring a person or an Internet intermediary to stop communicating hostile information campaign contents, and requiring services and platforms to restrict the dissemination of such additional content.

Internet service providers can also be ordered to block access to content.

Since the first reading of the Fica Bill, concerns have been raised by different quarters pertaining to the overly broad and expansive definitions of foreign interference and what constitutes political activities.

A petition against Fica which calls for more public consultation via a multi-party parliamentary Select Committee has also been launched.

A provision that merits special discussion is the Technical Assistance Direction that will allow the Government to act on an anticipatory basis.

Research on rumours and conspiracy theories found that the inoculation strategy — exposing individuals to fallacies to prepare them — has been shown to heighten people’s vigilance and scepticism towards false information.

While this directive will help the Government prevent the slow drip effect of influence operations and make a pre-emptive strike as soon as it is aware of suspicious activities, there could be concerns about its opacity and potential overreach.

According to the Bill, a “Technical Assistance Direction can be issued if the Minister suspects that there are preparations or plans to undertake an online communication activity in Singapore by or on behalf of a foreign principal, and the Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to issue the direction”.

The ongoing tussle between the Indian government and WhatsApp over a new law that requires the platform to identify the “first originator of information” when the authorities demand it highlights the potential pushback.

While the Indian government emphasises that the law will only be used to unmask people credibly accused of wrongdoing, WhatsApp has said that the law would require it to break encryption for message receivers as well as message originators.

This will potentially breach privacy protections on the platform.

Fica should specify the situations and the purposes that warrant the issuance of such a direction, or other directions for the matter.

This will help put the public’s mind at ease and promote cooperation from tech platforms.

At the international level, the Government needs to consider the potential effects Fica might have on Singapore as an international hub as well as criticisms about the lack of clarity on what “collaboration” entails.

Part of the wonder of cyberspace is its transboundary nature which makes collaborations on an unprecedented scale possible.

It has spurred the growth of the digital economy, sparked entrepreneurship, advanced academic collaboration and scholarship, and strengthened political alliances.

For example, the free-flowing exchange of ideas and resources form the backbone of the global climate movement.

The movement sparked off the people’s climate march, industry-wide climate activism efforts in different countries as well as grassroots campaigns.

While one cannot establish causation, the sharp gain in the momentum of transnational collaboration could have contributed to the energised global action on climate change.

Therefore, the definition of foreign interference and its measurements would have to be sharp and clear so as not to diminish Singapore’s position as a node in the global network of collaboration and creation.

Since the first reading of the Fica Bill, legal practitioners, activists and academics have raised concerns and offered suggestions on how to refine the Bill.

The Government should take heed and consider how it can strengthen the proposed Act so that it can keep foreign interference at bay while safeguarding people’s trust in it and Singapore’s hub status.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr Carol Soon is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies where she heads the Society and Culture department.

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/beware-collateral-damage-fica


[TODAY] Draft foreign interference law: Workers’ Party proposes changes to prevent abuse and enhance oversight over powers

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

  • A draft law to protect Singapore from foreign interference gives the Government power to deal with such acts
  • The Workers’ Party said it believes in countering foreign threats, but disagrees on the Bill’s wording 
  • The party’s parliamentarians filed a notice to amend the Bill
  • One proposed change is to exempt activities where foreign individuals or publications comment on Singapore politics in an “open, transparent and attributable way”

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/workers-party-disagrees-proposed-foreign-interference-law-files-changes-prevent-abuse-and-enhance-oversight-powers


[change.org] Say no to unfettered power! Rethink FICA!

30 September 2021

Sign this petition now!

Singapore’s proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) is an overly broad law that grants the Minister for Home Affairs vast powers, with serious repercussions for civil society, independent media, and public discourse.

The bill was introduced in Parliament on 13 September 2021, with its second reading scheduled for 4 October 2021.

We, the undersigned, would like to express the following concerns:

1. An overly broad, expansive law

FICA contains extremely broad definitions that serve as a catch-all for a wide range of activities. If enacted, the law will have serious ramifications for multiple stakeholders and large sections of society, including academia, business, civil society, and the media.

2. Powers to censor, impose restrictions, and demand information

FICA allows the Minister for Home Affairs vast powers to issue directives that can censor online content and even shut down media outlets. All that is required for the issuance of such directions is for the Minister to be of the opinion that online communications activity has been undertaken, or has been suspected of being undertaken, on behalf of a foreign principal, and that it is in the public interest to take action. Compliance with these directions are mandatory; failure to comply will attract heavy fines and/or imprisonment. The offence of non-compliance is arrestable and non-bailable.

The Minister can also declare an online location a “proscribed online location”. This would then make it illegal to monetise, finance, or form commercial partnerships with the platform. In other words, the Minister can effectively shut down any independent media business or initiative by cutting off its sources of funding.

The proposed legislation allows an authority appointed by the Minister to designate individuals or entities “politically significant persons”, who are then subject to reporting obligations and restrictions regarding donations. This designation can only be appealed to the Minister who appointed the authority in the first place.

FICA also grants authorities the right to demand information from any individual, whether inside Singapore or out, for enforcement purposes. Such a broad power can lead to gross violations of privacy.

3. Absence of meaningful oversight of powers granted under FICA

FICA limits the sources of appeal for the exercise of powers under the bill. Appeals are first directed to the Minister for Home Affairs, who can also choose not to consider an appeal if he deems it “frivolous or vexatious”.

The second source of appeal, the Reviewing Tribunal, is appointed by the President on the advice of the Cabinet. However, the Minister for Home Affairs makes the rules followed by the Reviewing Tribunal.

FICA further restricts judicial review in open court to only procedural matters.

4. Our demands

FICA, in its current state, is an example of state overreach without adequate oversight. Given the serious ramifications that such a wide-ranging law will have on multiple segments of society, it is crucial that such a bill be closely scrutinised and thoroughly debated before any decision can be taken as to whether such a far-reaching piece of legislation is even necessary.

It is therefore unacceptable that the bill – which is 249 pages long – is scheduled for its second, and likely third, reading on 4 October. That’s a mere three weeks after it was first introduced in Parliament. This is nowhere near enough time for Members of Parliament, as well as Singaporeans, to have read, analysed, and be consulted on the proposed law.

A multi-party Select Committee should instead be appointed to carry out extensive public consultation on the issue of “foreign interference”. The term should be clearly defined, and measures enacted should take into consideration with best practices in accordance with international human rights standards.

While legislation to combat malign foreign interference is not inherently unreasonable, national security should not be seen as an excuse to concentrate power in the hands of the state. Any law that is enacted should therefore not be overly broad and ambiguous, but targeted, precise, and subject to adequate oversight and restraints on power.


[TODAY] Draft law doesn’t bar meetings by groups with foreigners who have no control over them: MHA

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 26, 2021

  • MHA made these clarifications in response to concerns from human rights groups Maruah and Think Centre
  • They had questioned whether their activities will come under greater scrutiny under the proposed law on foreign interference
  • MHA said the intent of Fica is not to stifle political expression or activity but to prevent foreign influence via local proxies 

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/draft-foreign-interference-law-does-not-bar-meetings-maruah-and-think-centre-foreigners-no


[TODAY] Maruah, Think Centre criticise draft foreign interference law, raise concern about uncertainty over their activities

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

  • Two non-governmental organisations here will be deemed “politically significant persons” once a draft law on foreign influence is passed
  • One of them, Maruah, questioned whether it would be prohibited from meeting with counterparts from other Southeast Asian nations 
  • The other, Think Centre, said the Bill paints Singaporeans as “people who cannot think for themselves”
  • The Government has said the law will strengthen its ability to detect and counter foreign interference in domestic politics

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/maruah-think-centre-criticise-draft-foreign-interference-law-raise-concern-about


Dr Tan Cheng Bock on the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021

30 September 2021

[Greenpeace SEA] Online Submission of the CSO Briefing Paper on Ratifying and Implementing ILO Convention 188 in ASEAN Member States to ASEAN Secretariat

30 September 2021

We have attached a copy of Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Briefing Paper on Ratifying and Implementing ILO Convention 188 in ASEAN Member States and the cover email below. Please click on the link to download a copy of the report.


Dear ASEAN Secretariat,

In October last year, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (GPSEA) started developing the Briefing Paper on Ratifying and Implementing ILO Convention 188 in ASEAN Member States. We also initiated email correspondence and virtual consultation meetings with the respective sectoral bodies: ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers (ACMW), and the Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crimes (SOMTC). Alongside this, workshops were conducted to align views with fellow civil society organisations (CSO) and trade union colleagues. 

The briefing paper is jointly submitted by 18 CSOs and trade unions and endorsed by 6 organisations, with the aim of having ASEAN member states join us to fight modern slavery at sea together at the regional level.

It is very unfortunate that none of the AICHR, ACMW, and SOMTC Brunei Darussalam leaders are able to join us in the online launch event due to other commitments. Nevertheless, we are submitting the briefing paper online by way of this email. Please find this document attached.

We really hope that this briefing paper will mark the beginning of further discussions and collaborations between CSOs, trade unions, and ASEAN to combat modern slavery at sea. Therefore, we are looking forward to hearing your response and views on the matter. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Joint-Submitters

Asosiasi Pekerja Perikanan Indonesia (AP2I)

CSO Coalition for Ethical and Sustainable Seafood

Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Form (GLJ-ILRF)

Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI)

Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Bandung (LBH Bandung)

Oxfam International – Asia

Plan International

Serikat Awak Kapal Perikanan Bersatu (Sakti) SULUT

Serikat Awak Kapal Transportasi Indonesia (SAKTI)

Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia (SBMI)

Serikat Pekerja Perikanan Indonesia (SPPI)

Serikat Pelaut Sulawesi Utara (SPSU)

Stella Maris Manila

The Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN)

Verité Southeast Asia

Endorsers

Amnesty International – Indonesia

Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW)

Human Rights Working Group (HRWG)

MARUAH Singapore

Raks Thai Foundation

Solidaritas Perempuan (SP)


[Singapore Internet Watch] September Internet News Round-Up; Privacy and Security Resources for Civil Society

19 September 2021

This round-up covers issues ranging from crucial privacy/security resources for civil society, the Yale-NUS merger, and the latest use of POFMA. We have provided some excerpts from the round-up below. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

Law and Digital Politics

The new foreign interference law: A new Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act has been introduced in Parliament. If passed, it will give the Singapore government the power to remove, change, or block “hostile” online information. As with POFMA, the bill’s impact on the shape of electronic communications will be noteworthy.

Sedition Act Repeal: The passage of more recent laws, such as POFMA has lessened the relevance of the Sedition Act, according to a bill introduced in Parliament to repeal it. However, with the Sedition Act’s repeal, the Criminal Procedure Code will be amended to make “ the deliberate wounding of any person’s religious or racial feelings” and “the promotion of disharmony” arrestable offences.

Crowdfunding for Damages to Singapore’s PM: The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu has been crowdfunding to pay for damages to PM Lee Hsien Loong, following 2 defamation lawsuits over TOC’s articles on the Lee siblings dispute.

Education

AI in Education: As part of Singapore’s National AI Strategy for education, MOE is exploring AI-enabled marking for English assignments and expects to integrate this into the Student Learning Space e-learning platform in 2 years.

Academic Freedom in Singapore: Academia.sg released their ground-breaking Academic Freedom Report. Check out this summary of key points from Yahoo Singapore: 78% of Singapore academics report at least ‘moderate’ interference: poll.

Yale-NUS Closure: read below for a compilation of recent analysis and commentary.

Business

Labour Protections for Platform Workers: Amidst a growing gig economy, PM Lee’s NDR speech addressed the precarity that platform workers face and acknowledged their need for better economic protections.

Manipulating Review Platforms: A Japanese restaurant in Singapore discovered that their negative online reviews it was receiving were actually their competitors trying to sabotage them

Security and Surveillance

Up to US$150,000 for Ethical Hackers: GovTech is launching a program to reward ethical hackers who find bugs and vulnerabilities in government websites and apps.

Autonomous Robots Patrolling the Heartland: This three week trial marks the first time “that an autonomous robot is being used to patrol and survey a public area with high foot traffic to enhance public health and safety”.


Singapore Internet Watch is a student-run group focusing on internet research. Their key focus areas include censorship, media regulation, misinformation and freedom of information.


The group believes in the need for open data and transparency in studying contentious issues at the intersection of Singapore’s internet and society.


Subscribe to their monthly newsletter to receive a round-up of the latest developments in Singapore’s media and politics, and updates on their work.


[International Criminal Court] Abd-Al-Rahman case : Trial to open on 5 April 2022

19 September 2021

Today, 8 September 2021, Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “Court”) composed of Judge Joanna Korner, Presiding Judge, Judge Reine Alapini-Gansou and Judge Althea Violet Alexis-Windsor  scheduled the opening of the trial in the case  The Prosecutor v. Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (“Ali Kushayb”) for 5 April 2022.

Mr Abd-Al-Rahman was transferred to the ICC’s custody on 9 June 2020, after surrendering himself voluntarily in the Central African Republic. His initial appearance before the ICC took place on 15 June 2020. The confirmation of charges hearing was held before Pre-Trial Chamber II from 24 to 26 May 2021. On  9 July 2021, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court unanimously, issued a decision confirming all the charges brought by the Prosecutor against Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (“Ali Kushayb”) and committed him to trial before a Trial Chamber.

The 31 charges include intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such, as a war crime; murder as a crime against humanity and as a war crime; pillaging as a war crime; destruction of the property of an adversary as a war crime; other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity; outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime; rape as a crime against humanity and a war crime; forcible transfer as a crime against humanity; persecution as a crime against humanity; torture as a crime against humanity and a war crime; cruel treatment as a war crime; attempted murder as a crime against humanity and a war crime.

For further information on this case, check here.

For further information, please contact Fadi El Abdallah, Spokesperson and Head of Public Affairs Unit, International Criminal Court, by telephone at: +31 (0)70 515-9152 or +31 (0)6 46448938 or by e-mail at: fadi.el-abdallah@icc-cpi.int

You can also follow the Court’s activities on TwitterFacebookTumblrYouTubeInstagram and Flickr


[Joint statement] Letter to the Telenor Group

12 August 2021

Please click here for full statement in PDF.

Gunn Wærsted
Chair of the Board
Telenor Group

cc: Sigve Brekke
President & CEO
Telenor Group

12 August 2021

Dear Mdm. Gunn Wærsted,

Our organizations are writing to express alarm regarding the announcement by Telenor Group to sell off their Myanmar business to M1 Group, and to strongly urge you to reconsider this decision and institute human rights safeguards.

In 2013, Telenor’s application for a telecommunications licence in Myanmar was considered risky as Myanmar was at an early stage in its democratic transition, which recent events have demonstrated was not irreversible.  Nevertheless, we observed that through the years since, Telenor’s operations within Myanmar strived to follow a responsible and human-rights centric approach as required under the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct by Multinational Enterprises, and Telenor’s various other commitments in Norway, Myanmar and globally. 

Telenor Myanmar thereby gained the trust of our organisations and other civil society due to its transparency and engagement within the country, something which is reflected in the open letter by over 460 civil society organisations sent on 14 July 2021. These stakeholders recognise that Telenor has always sought to exercise ‘leverage to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts’ within the constraints posed by the Myanmar regulatory framework, as required by the UNGPs.

We recognise that since the coup, Telenor, like other companies, has come under extreme pressure from the military to take further steps which undermine its responsibility to respect human rights. We realise that you face many challenges, not least protecting the rights of your employees and customers, in addition to commercial and operational challenges.  However, we note that many of these challenges are not unique to Myanmar, and that Telenor continues to operate in other challenging markets such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

We were therefore surprised and dismayed to learn that Telenor has taken a rapid decision to leave Myanmar, and to sell to the M1 Group. We note that Telenor has done this without seeking the views of the civil society stakeholders with whom it previously significantly engaged on responsible business, including some of our undersigned organisations. Furthermore, we see no evidence that Telenor has undertaken the ‘credible assessment of potential adverse human rights impacts of disengagement’ from Myanmar, required under the UNGPs.  This appears to be a hurried ‘disposal’ rather than a responsible exit.

We note that Telenor Myanmar is currently the subject of a complaint accepted by the Norwegian National Contact Point (NCP) related to possible misuse by the Tatmadaw of the network tower in Alethankyaw. Companies have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles, ‘where they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts’, to ‘provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes’.  If Telenor exits Myanmar it should continue to cooperate fully with this NCP process. Furthermore, as the withdrawal itself may cause or contribute to new human rights harms, the potential for these should first be identified through the ‘credible human rights impact assessment’ mentioned above, and this should include consideration both of how to avoid any adverse impacts and how to provide for remedy should they nonetheless occur, even if Telenor no longer has an in-country presence. 

These concerns were raised in a recent second complaint submitted to the NCP against the company by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) on behalf of 474 Myanmar-based civil society organizations. The complaint alleged that Telenor had ‘failed to conduct appropriate risk-based due diligence’, ‘failed to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts potentially arising from the sale of its Myanmar operations’, ‘failed to meaningfully engage with relevant stakeholders’ and ‘not been transparent in its decision to disengage’. 

Our organisations are of the view that, notwithstanding our major concerns about Myanmar’s regulatory framework for telecommunications and its current application, it might still be more positive from a human rights perspective for Telenor to stay in the market, rather than sell to a buyer such as the M1 Group. We have several serious concerns about M1 Group’s acquisition of your licence, infrastructure, employees, and customers –  including their data – which are detailed below. 

We see no evidence that M1 Group intends to respect human rights.

We note that the M1 Group website does not make any reference to human rights and that M1 is not even a signatory to the most basic international standard for investment companies and private equity, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. Nor is it a member of the UN Global Compact.  M1 Group, therefore, appears to be an investor that has not expressed even basic commitments to international human rights standards.

M1 Group does not share the commitment to transparency and stakeholder engagement which was an essential part of Telenor’s contribution to the Myanmar telecommunications market, and also does not have the experience or expertise to manage the serious and complex human rights challenges of operating in Myanmar and fulfil its responsibility to respect human rights. We are also concerned to hear from our international partners and read reports of M1 Group’s operations in other telecommunications markets.

Furthermore, through its investment in Irrawaddy Green Towers (IGT),  M1 Group is associated with military businesses which were identified in the August 2019 report of the UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission. This analysed the Myanmar military’s economic interests which are alleged to have enabled the most serious international crimes, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. These allegations are currently before the world’s highest courts – the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. IGT is included in the 2019 report by virtue of its willingness to have a commercial relationship with MyTel, the operator which is part-owned by the military’s Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). MEC has, since the coup, been widely sanctioned. 

M1 Group’s operations in other markets do not bode well for how they may operate in Myanmar if they took over from Telenor. M1 Group was co-founded by Najib Mikati – a former Lebanese Prime Minister and recently re-appointed as Prime Minister-delegate –  and his brother Taha Mikati. The oligarch Mikati family have not only been accused of corruption within Lebanon but have a record of entering and exploiting authoritarian markets for profits. The Mikati family’s Investcom conglomerate entered the Syrian market in 2001 soon after Bashar al-Assad took power, to operate one of two cell phone networks in Syria, MTN Syria, and has since complied with government orders’ including filtering and blocking users’ telecommunications particularly during protests to interfere with their ability to coordinate and organize. Following the sale of its Syrian outfit to a South African multinational telecommunications company, MTN Group, M1 Group remains one of the largest shareholders of MTN Group. Investcom also reportedly entered the Sudanese market in 2005, amidst continuing atrocities amounting to genocide in Darfur, and had partnered with a Yemeni businessperson with close ties to former Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2019, Najib Mikati was charged with corruption and illicit enrichment in Lebanon. Earlier this year, the public prosecutor overseeing the case was removed in what the International Commission of Jurists termed an ‘attack on an already enfeebled judiciary’, in line with a ‘long history of utter subordination to the ruling political class in Lebanon’ – a class of which the Mikati family is part.

We note that in 2013, M1 Group bid for an operator’s licence in partnership with MTN and Amara Communications. Amara is owned by U Ne Aung who is a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) by virtue of his (deceased) father, a former General and Minister. His brother, Moe Aung, the current Commander in Chief of the Navy is a close collaborator of Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing. We would like to know what information the team conducting the sale and the Telenor Board sought or received about the actual or potential involvement of these PEPs, or other PEPs and sanctioned individuals, in the transaction.  

We are particularly concerned that Telenor’s Board may not have taken into account the risk that by deciding to embark on this sale, opportunities will open up for military-connected individuals or entities on current sanctions lists to acquire a stake, as has occurred with other divestments in Myanmar or to benefit financially, whether as a broker or as an undeclared beneficial owner. We see this risk as significantly heightened since M1 is an investment company with a questionable long-term commitment to Myanmar, rather than an established telecommunications operator, and therefore more likely to be looking to make an onward sale.  In December 2020, M1 Group, together with co-owner BluStone Management, entered an agreement to sell Irrawaddy Green Towers to another private equity player, CVC. This, together with Telenor’s highly discounted price, leads us to suspect that M1 Group may intend to resell all or part of the asset to other buyers who we believe would not pass Telenor’s due diligence. 

Taking all of this into account, we are both surprised and concerned that a company of Telenor’s standing would contemplate selling their Myanmar business, including their employees and customers, in this risky manner, to a company with no apparent commitment to transparency or human rights.

We, therefore, call upon you to cancel or pause the sale of Telenor Myanmar to M1 Global and to conduct human rights due diligence that is transparent and constitutes the ‘credible impact assessment’ called for by the UNGPs. This should obtain the views of a variety of stakeholders, particularly civil society organisations, human rights defenders and individual users who will be affected if Telenor departs. The due diligence should look at the impacts of potential buyers as well as the option and impact of remaining if satisfactory buyers cannot be identified. The results of such an assessment should be made public and accessible. Any due diligence assessment already conducted by Telenor before this recent decision to sell should also be made accessible to relevant stakeholders in a detailed manner as soon as possible. It should include consideration of how Telenor intends to redress any human rights harms linked to its past activities, or newly imposed by the company’s exit.

We further urge that Myanmar human rights defenders, activists and civil society groups be directly spoken with and consulted by the highest levels of Telenor’s decision-making members. It seems evident that in the most recent sudden decision to sell, this consultation had not been prioritised.

As you will have noted from the comments of various Myanmar stakeholders following your announcement, Telenor is a highly regarded investor in Myanmar.  However, the circumstances of this potential sale risk leaving a bitter taste, and negatively affecting Telenor’s local and global reputation as a responsible business. It will also dent the confidence of the Myanmar people that the Norwegian government, your major shareholder, is committed to the best interests of the Myanmar people. 

We remain open to consultation and eager to contribute to your efforts to respect human rights in Myanmar and beyond. 

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned organizations

  1. Access Now
  2. Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
  3. Africa Freedom of Information Center 
  4. ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma)
  5. Change Tanzania Movement
  6. Civil Rights Defenders
  7. Digital Woman Uganda
  8. Free Expression Myanmar
  9. Global Voices
  10. Global Witness
  11. Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF)
  12. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  13. Justice for Myanmar
  14. Kijiji Yeetu
  15. Last Mile4D
  16. Manushya Foundation
  17. MARUAH
  18. Media Matters for Democracy
  19. Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment (ForUM) 
  20. Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative) 
  21. Open Net Association
  22. Organization of the Justice Campaign
  23. Paradigm Initiative
  24. PEN America
  25. Progressive Voice
  26. Ranking Digital Rights
  27. Rudi International
  28. Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
  29. Software Freedom Law Center, India (SFLC.IN)
  30. Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENet)
  31. Securing Organizations with Automated Policymaking (SOAP)
  32. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)
  33. The Peace Centre
  34. Transparency International Czech Republic
  35. Transparency International Norway
  36. Ubunteam
  37. U.S. Campaign for Burma
  38. WITNESS
  39. Yemeni Organization for Development and Exchange of Technology (YODET) 
  40. Zaina Foundation