Social media platforms blocked in Sri Lanka amid curfew and opposition protests

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan soldiers carrying assault rifles and police set up checkpoints in Colombo on Sunday as the government blocked social media platforms after imposing a curfew to contain public unrest caused by the country’s economic crisis.

The latest restrictions come after the government on Saturday implemented a nationwide curfew as protests against the government’s handling of the economic crisis turned violent. The curfew will continue until 6 a.m. (0030 GMT) on Monday. Read more

“The ban on social media is temporary and imposed on special instructions from the Ministry of Defense. It was imposed in the interest of the country and the people to maintain calm,” Jayanta de Silva, head of the Communications Regulatory Commission, told Reuters.

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

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

“The availability of a VPN, as I am using it now, renders such a ban completely useless. I urge the authorities to think more forward and reconsider this decision.”

President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday, raising fears that protests will be suppressed as the country grapples with soaring prices, shortages of necessities and constant power outages.

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Emergency powers in the past allowed the military to arrest and detain suspects without arrest warrants, but the current authorities’ conditions are not yet clear.

It also saw a sharp shift in political support for President Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2019 promising stability.

About two dozen opposition leaders stopped at police barricades on their way to Independence Square, some chanting “Gotha (Gotabaya) go home.”

“This is unacceptable,” said opposition leader Eran Wickramartne, bending over the barricades. “This is a democracy.”

Nihal Teldwa, chief police officer, said 664 people who violated curfew rules were arrested by police in Western Province, the country’s most populous administrative region that 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 maintained double deficits – a budget deficit alongside a current account deficit.

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

At the Pettah government bus stand in Colombo, painter Isoru Sabarmado said he was desperately searching for a way to get back to his home in Chilaw, about 70 km away.

With public transportation on hold since the curfew, Sabarmado said he spent the night sleeping on the street 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 are monitoring the situation and expect the government to allow citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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