The government failed to explain the blocking of the news website www.lankaenews.com despite local and international media rights advocates condemning the move.
Colombo Telegraph revealed on 9 November, 2017 that the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) had issued a directive to instruct all internet service providers to block the website.
This was after the website published stories that were considered to be derogatory and abusive of President Maithripala Sirisena. The President referred to ‘a website operated from abroad’ and ‘supported by those accused of wrongdoing in the Central Bank Bond Scam’ attacking him.
This morning at the weekly media briefing on cabinet decisions, spokesperson Dayasiri Jayasekara was rendered helpless when journalists queried him about blocking lankaenews.
Jayasekara could not explain why the website was blocked or who was responsible for this act of censorship. After stammering for a while, he said that he had heard about it. Then he said that President Sirisena wouldn’t do such a thing (as blocking a website).
The Centre for Policy Alternatives in a media release noted with concern the inaccessibility of the website from November 8th onwards.
“Whether by executive order or based on a unilateral decision by the TRCSL, CPA notes that the blocking of Lanka E News has not followed due process and is completely extra-judicial in nature,” the CPA stated.
The Commission to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called for the restoration of access immediately in a tweet: “CPJ is concerned about reports that news site Lanka E News has been blocked in #SriLanka because of its critical reporting. This is a press freedom violation and access to the website should be restored immediately.”
When reporters asked him under which law the website was blocked, Jayasekara said that the website had repeatedly attacked Sirisena and had intensified the attacks of late. He also observed that the website had not shown interest in revealing those who were responsible for the bond scam, echoing the President’s comment and insinuating that the culprits were backing the website.
Finally, he suggested that the reporter make use of Right to Information laws to find out how the website came to be banned before promising the share the information at the next media briefing after finding out what had happened.