Social media platforms blocked in Sri Lanka due to curfew and opposition protest

COLOMBO, April 3 (Reuters) – Sri Lankan soldiers with assault rifles and police officers manned checkpoints in Colombo on Sunday as the government blocked social media platforms after imposing a curfew to stem public unrest sparked by the country’s economic crisis .

The latest restrictions come after the government imposed a nationwide curfew on Saturday as protests over the government’s handling of the economic crisis turned violent. The curfew is in effect until 6am (0030 GMT) on Monday. Continue reading

“The social media ban is temporary and has been imposed following special instructions from the Department of Defense. It was imposed in the interest of the country and the people to keep calm,” Jayantha de Silva, chair of the Telecoms Regulatory Commission, told Reuters.

Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Internet surveillance organization NetBlocks said real-time network data showed Sri Lanka had imposed a nationwide social media blackout restricting access to platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram as the state of emergency was declared amid widespread protests.

The country’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Namal Rajapaksa, who is also the nephew of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, said in a tweet he would “never condone social media blocking”.

“The availability of VPN, as I use it now, makes such bans utterly useless. I urge the authorities to think more progressively and reconsider this decision.”

President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday, stoking fears of a crackdown on protests as the country grapples with soaring prices, shortages of basic necessities and ongoing power outages.

Emergency powers have in the past allowed the military to arrest and detain suspects without warrants, but the terms of the current powers are not yet clear.

It also marked a sharp turn in political support for President Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2019 and promised stability.

About two dozen opposition leaders stopped in front of police barricades on their way to Independence Square, some chanting “Gota (Gotabaya) Go Home.”

“This is unacceptable,” said opposition leader Eran Wickramaratne while leaning over the barricades. “It’s a democracy.”

Nihal Thalduwa, a senior police superintendent, said 664 people who violated the curfew had been arrested by police in the Western Province, the country’s most populous administrative unit, which includes Colombo.

Critics say the roots of the crisis, the worst in several decades, lie in economic mismanagement by successive governments that have created and perpetuated a dual deficit – a budget deficit alongside a current account deficit.

But the current crisis has been accelerated by deep tax cuts promised by Rajapaksa during a 2019 election campaign, enacted months before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out parts of Sri Lanka’s economy.

At the Pettah government bus station in Colombo, Issuru Saparamadu, a painter, said he was desperate for a way to get home to Chilaw, some 70 km away.

With public transport stalled since the curfew, Saparamadu said he slept on the streets the night after working in Colombo all week.

“Now I can’t go back. I’m stuck,” he said. “I am very frustrated.”

Western and Asian diplomats based in Sri Lanka said they were monitoring the situation and expected the government to allow citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Writing from Rupam Jain; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Comment