International

Sri Lanka crisis: Government restores access to social media following backlash

The Sri Lankan govt. ban had applied to Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, WhatsApp, Viber, Twitter, IMO, Instagram, Telegram, Snapchat, and TikTok. File

The Sri Lankan govt. ban had applied to Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, WhatsApp, Viber, Twitter, IMO, Instagram, Telegram, Snapchat, and TikTok. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

Sri Lanka restored access to social media sites and messaging apps on Sunday afternoon, after its early morning decision to block usage sparked wide criticism. 

Condemning the social media ban, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka said it was a “vital aspect” of the freedom of expression of people, and “as important as traditional media”. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka observed that the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) had “no authority” to ask service providers to restrict social media access, on the basis a “request from the Ministry of Defense.” Opposition members too slammed the government for “stifling” free expression.  

Earlier, Sri Lanka had blocked all major social media platforms and messaging apps since Sunday morning, even as public criticism grows over the Rajapaksa administration’s crisis response.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission attributed the decision to a request from the Ministry of Defence until further notice. The move applies to Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, WhatsApp, Viber, Twitter, IMO, Instagram, Telegram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

An island-wide curfew is already in place since Saturday, after the government declared an Emergency amid reports of citizens’ groups planning a series of protests this weekend. The curfew order issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said: “no person shall be on any public road, railway, public park, public recreation ground or other public ground or the seashore”, until 6 a.m. on Monday, April 4, 2022. Since Saturday evening when the curfew came into effect, police have arrested over 660 persons for “violating” the curfew. Senior lawyer groups and Opposition members slammed the government over the move that they alleged targeted protests swelling in the country.

The social media ban is the government’s latest move, in its response to a heightening economic crisis that has sparked public protests as citizens struggle for essentials, including fuel, food, milk, and medicines. The fuel shortages have led to long power cuts last week. The arrival of a new consignment of fuel from India on Saturday, as part of the nine consignments under a $ 500 million emergency credit line that New Delhi has extended, is expected to ease the situation, authorities said.  

Earlier, police arrested government critic Anurudda Bandara, for allegedly running a Facebook page called ‘Gota Go Home’. He was released on bail.

“The ban is obviously an attempt to curb Freedom of Expression when the government faces growing public criticism. This especially affects smaller news websites that rely heavily on social media for their operations,” said Easwaran Rutnam, senior journalist and editor of a local news website.

Appearing to challenge his own government, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, a nephew of the President and son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, said in a tweet that he would “never condone” the blocking of social media. “The availability of VPN, just like I’m using now, makes such bans completely useless. I urge the authorities to think more progressively and reconsider this decision,” said Mr. Namal, also the State Minister of Digital Technology.


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Printable version | Apr 3, 2022 4:41:07 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lanka-crisis-government-restores-access-to-social-media-following-backlash/article65286448.ece