The latest restrictions came after the government imposed a nationwide curfew on Saturday following violent protests over the government’s handling of the economic crisis. On Monday, the curfew will be in effect until 6 am (0030 GMT).
“The social media ban is only temporary and was implemented as a result of specific directives from the Ministry of Defence. It was implemented in the best interest of the country and the people to maintain peace” Jayantha de Silva, President of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission.
Internet monitoring organization NetBlocks said real-time network data showed Sri Lanka had imposed a nationwide social media lockdown, restricting access to platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram when a state of emergency was declared amid widespread protests.
The country’s Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s nephew, said in a tweet that he “would never approve of social media blocking.”
President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday, raising fears of a crackdown on the protests as the country grapples with rising prices, shortages of essential items and ongoing power cuts.
“The availability of VPNs, like the one I am using now, makes such bans completely useless. I urge the authorities to think more progressively and reconsider this decision.”
In the past, emergency powers have allowed the armed forces to arrest and detain suspects without warrants, but the terms of the current powers are still unclear.
It also marked a sharp change in political support for President Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2019 promising stability.
About two dozen opposition leaders stopped at police barricades en route to Independence Square, some chanting “Gota (Gotabaya) Go Home.” “This is unacceptable,” said opposition leader Eran Wickramaratne leaning over the barricades. “This is a democracy.”
Nihal Thalduwa, a senior police superintendent, said 664 people who violated curfew rules were arrested by police in Western Province, the country’s most populous administrative division that includes Colombo. Critics say the roots of the crisis, the worst in decades, lie in economic mismanagement by successive governments that created and maintained a twin deficit: a budget deficit coupled with a current account deficit.
But the current crisis was accelerated by deep tax cuts promised by Rajapaksa during the 2019 election campaign that were enacted months before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out parts of the Sri Lankan economy. At Colombo’s Pettah government bus stop, Issuru Saparamadu, a painter, said he was desperately looking for a way to get back to his home in Chilaw, some 70km away.
With public transport paralyzed since the curfew, Saparamadu said he spent the night sleeping rough after working all week in Colombo. “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 hoped the government would allow citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.
- In Sri Lanka, social networking services have been banned due to curfew and opposition protests.
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