Following improvement in communal situation, Sri Lanka government under pressure to lift social media ban 

The government imposed a state of emergency last week and blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media sites following anti-Muslim violence in Kandy and Ampara districts.

Published: 15th March 2018 09:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th March 2018 10:53 AM   |  A+A-


Sri Lanka's army soldiers remove the debris of a vandalized building in Digana, a suburb of Kandy. (File Photo | AP)


COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has said restrictions imposed on social media after the communal riots in the island's central hills will be lifted within the next few days, as the government faced flak for not lifting the blockage despite improvement in the situation.

The government imposed a state of emergency last week and blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media sites following anti-Muslim violence in Kandy and Ampara districts.

IN PICS | A look back at the violence that shook the island nation

The government restricted the use of social media after police claimed that they were being used to spread hatred against the minority community.

Sirisena, addressing Sri Lankan community in Japan yesterday, said that the temporary ban on Facebook following the riots will be lifted within the next few days.

He said that even though there is room for any medium for the benefit of the society, there is a need for a certain approach to control the destruction cause to the society by some vicious elements using these mediums, the Colombo Page reported.

"Mobile phones, computers, the Internet and social media were created for the benefit of the human kind and utilising these technologies we can get the knowledge of a world, but unfortunately some section of the society in Sri Lanka use these resources to destroy the country," he pointed out.

President Sirisena said it is expected to introduce a new programme on the proper usage of such resources and emphasised the imperative need for the citizens as well as the government to fulfil their responsibilities.

The Sri Lankan government is facing flak over continued shutdown of several social media sites even though anti-Muslim violence in the island's central hills has eased.

Sri Lanka's Minister of Youth Affairs and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayaka criticised the government for continuing the ban on social media saying that blocking Facebook and messaging apps in long term is not an option in present times.

Ratnayake said the social media ban makes a negative impact on a wide range of industries.

"Apart from the general frustration it creates, such blanket bans will take a heavy toll on economy and hamper IT, E-commerce and tourism sectors.

What the government must promote is responsible use of social media, with necessary checks and balances," Ratnayaka said in a statement.

"Blocking Facebook and messaging platforms long term is not an option, in this day and age.

Social Media must start functioning so that the economy doesn't suffer.

Therefore access to Social Media must be unblocked as soon as possible and the Government must set in place a system to curtail hate speech and fake news," he added.

However, UNP, the dominant partner of the ruling coalition, said it would not fight against the social media blockage.

Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando said although the UNP was not in agreement they have decided "to keep quiet".

Fernando said the blockage through local service providers on Facebook and other social media were necessary to prevent an escalation of the anti-Muslim riots that left three people dead and arson attacks against over 200 houses and businesses in Kandy district.

Fernando said the UNP was against Sirisena's order to block the Lankaenews website since last November, but the party understands that Sirisena has reasons to do so.

"We are in a joint national coalition. So our two parties are together. Just because the other party decides (on something wrong) we are not going to be barbaric and fight each other," he said.

A state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on March 6 for 10 days to rein in the spread of communal violence between the majority Sinhala and minority Muslims in the country's scenic Kandy district.

Violence, triggered by the death of a Sinhalese man at the hands of a mob, erupted in the Theldeniya area of the central hill district popular with tourists.

The government deployed thousands of troops to restore peace and protect the minority Muslims and their property.

The area is currently peaceful and no attacks have been reported since Thursday.


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