Sections of the diplomatic community that has by and large supported the Government’s crackdown on the freedom of expression following communal rights have now said it’s time the ban on social media was lifted.
The Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Bryce Hutchesson tweeted, “Time, overdue, to lift Sri Lanka’s blanket blocking of key social media platforms – a blunt instrument.” Earlier US Ambassador Atul Keshap said that it was hate-filled people and not social media per se that were to blame.
“Social media is an imperfect, evolving, and fluid platform that uses new technology to connect and reflect human societies as a whole, including the good and bad,” he observed in a twitter post.
Social media platforms including Facebook,WhatsApp, Viber and Imo have been blocked since last week, supposedly ‘to prevent transmitting fake news or rumours that instill a fear psychosis or a threat to communal harmony.’
Dr Harsha De Silva, who tweeted last Thursday (8th) that hate speech on facebook was increasing beyond acceptable levels and that the Government will have to act immediately to save lives, stated on two days later that the ban on social media would be lifted the same day (10th).
Meanwhile, although the Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando is reported to have told the ‘Daily Mirror’ that the ban would be lifted on Monday, the platforms mentioned above remain blocked.
Fernando mentioned the time consuming nature of ‘removing content such as hate speech published on Facebook in Sinhala’ as the reason for the delay. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, which handles such matters come under his portfolio.
The opposition, however, opines that the ban is part of a Government strategy to curb the freedom of expression.
Addressing a news briefing on Monday, Leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya and a vocal spokesperson for the Joint Opposition Udaya Gammanpila pointed out that ‘a number of users had utilized social media platforms to express their sentiments against the government during the recent past.’
“The violent incidents in Kandy are no more and the curfew has been lifted. The State of Emergency would be expired on Wednesday but the ban on social media is still in effect. The government which came to power to ensure freedom of expression attempts to suppress social media today hiding behind Kandy violence,” he added.
Giving credence to Gammanpila’s stand on the matter is the fact that certain disturbing incidents reported by the wire-agencies have gone unmentioned in the mainstream media.
For example Reuters and Al Jazeera reported that a grenade blast killed one person on Wednesday (7th). The identity of the victim, whether or not it was the person who had the grenade, and the circumstances remain a mystery.