Eight international organisations fighting for freedom of expression from Asia, the Americas and Europe wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Telecommunications, Mangala Samaraweera last night to urge the minister to keep his promise and protect freedom of expression on the internet in Sri Lanka.
Back in February Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera rang the editor of Colombo Telegraph to apologise for the covert and illegal ‘throttling’ of Colombo Telegraph website on the internet. Apparently, somebody in authority had decided to ignore the direct order of President Maithripala Sirisena to cease the blocking of the website. Minister Samaraweera promised to hold a full investigation into who was responsible and to make a public statement; but to date there’s been no progress.
We publish below the letter sent by ARTICLE 19, Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), English PEN, Index on Censorship, Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and Vivarta in full;
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Telecommunications,
Hon. Mangala Samaraweera
Telecommunication & Information Technology Division,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
79/1 5th Lane,
July 23, 2015
As supporters and defenders of freedom of expression rights, we request you, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Telecommunications, to fulfil your promise to investigate the recent illegal blocking of online access to the Colombo Telegraph.
President Maithripala Sirisena gave a specific order to lift direct online censorship of the news service as one of his first acts in power. But as you know, a recent technical investigation by the Colombo Telegraph and Danish experts discovered a month later that the blocking had merely continued in a more subtle, covert and illegal form.
The source of the interference was traced to a server in the central office of Sri Lanka Telecom at the OTS Building in Lotus Road, Colombo. We thank you for promptly calling the editor of the Colombo Telegraph on February 7 to “express regret” at the incident and promise an immediate investigation with a public report to follow.
We are disappointed that there has since been no apparent progress with the investigation. The possibility that individuals within the Sri Lankan telecommunications sector may be illegally interfering with public access to news websites without legal authority is one that concerns us all.
Though we disapprove of the practice, we note that websites can be “prohibited or be subject to supervision and control” under S.69 of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act 1991 – but only under ministerial authority, and under a publicly announced order. No such order was made to replace the one lifted by President Sirisena.
With elections due, the media must be free to cover the upcoming campaigns without fear of interference, covert or overt, online or off. A positive way of easing a specific threat is to complete your investigations and publish its conclusions this month, before the elections take place in August.
With thanks for your time, interest and commitment to date, Signed by the following international organisations
ARTICLE 19, London
Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), Bangalore
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), San Francisco
English PEN, London
Index on Censorship, London
Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), London
World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Frankfurt & Paris
Reply c/o: Vivarta, The Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA, UK
This message by e-mail, paper copy by delivery to the Ministry direct & by mail
Click here to read the history of blocking Colombo Telegraph