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Social media platforms in Sri Lanka briefly restricted amidst curfew and protests

Categories: Sri Lanka, South-Asia, Activism, Advocacy, Censorship, Free Expression, Human Rights, Law, Media, Protest
Image via Pxfuel. Free for commercial use. [1]

Image via Pxfuel [1]. Free for commercial and non-commercial use.

On the evening of Sunday, April 3, 2022, global Internet monitor NetBlocks reported [2] that access to major social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber etc.) in Sri Lanka were being restored. Services were restricted [3] at around the end of April 2 local time. This comes after the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa [4] declared a state of emergency [5] on April 1, giving sweeping power to security forces. There are growing protests in the country demanding his resignation [6] over the ongoing economic crisis. A thirty-six hour-long curfew was also imposed [7] from 6 p.m. on April 2 until 6 a.m. on April 4 to suppress the protests.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst financial crisis [8] since independence in 1948, amid depleting [9] foreign currency reserves. Rolling blackouts, shortages of fuel, gas and medicine, and higher prices of food items have sparked widespread protests [10]. According to the president, the state of emergency was required [11] to protect public order and ensure essential supplies and services.

Protests against the Rajapaksa government and the powerful Rajapaksa family [13] intensified on March 31, 2022, Thursday leading into the early hours of April 1. Citizen journalism platform Groundviews journaled a timeline [14] of the situation since March 31.

Blogger and activist Amalini De Sayrah tweeted:

No prior notice

People started to notice the social media block on Saturday night. Activist and academician Sanjana Hattotuwa tweeted [18]:

Netblocks confirmed [2] the block on Twitter:

Some, like data scientist, author and fact-checker Yudhanjaya Wijeratne had plenty of advice [24] about which VPN to use to bypass the block:

Political Cartoons of Sri Lanka tweeted:

Researcher and open source evangelist Pradeeban Kathiravelu tweeted:

Contrary to the constitution

According to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), the ban was implemented on a request [42] made by the Ministry of Defence.

Lawyer Gehan Gunatilleke questioned [43]:

Gunatilekke highlights in this thread [45] that the Sri Lankan constitution governs the limits of the freedom of expression and not the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act.

Lawyer N. K. Ashokbharan also asserted:

Meanwhile, Namal Rajapaksa [48], the Sri Lanka Cabinet Minister of Youth and Sports and the son of current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa [49], tweeted [50]:

However, academician Ishara Paranawithana quips at Rajapaksa, reminding about his added portfolio [52] ā€” State Minister of Digital Technology and Entrepreneur Development:

Citizen journalism platform Vikalpa highlights protesting voices:

Protests amidst curfew

On Sunday, April 3, protesters were seen defying curfew [62] in Kandy and Colombo to turn out in numbers demanding the president's resignation. The police used [63] tear gas on the protesters in many places.

Despite the social media ban, many journalists like Kavinthan Shanmugarajah continued to share the news on the ground on Twitter:

After a meeting on Sunday, April 3, 2022 night, all 26 ministers of the Sri Lankan cabinet resigned [68]. However, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa still hold power. The government is set to appoint [69] a new cabinet on Monday.