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
Exposé: Srisena Brothers Continue Rajapaksa Policy Of Blocking Colombo Telegraph
Video: How SLT Blocking Colombo Telegraph At The CTO Building
Mangala Expresses Regret Over Blocking Colombo Telegraph And Promises Full Report Soon
Click here to read the history of blocking Colombo Telegraph
Tungsan Yu / July 24, 2015
Are these same organisations fighting for 1. Julian Assange 2. Edward Snowden?
Seems rather hypocritical if they aren’t.
Dr Romesh Senewiratne-Alagaratnam / July 24, 2015
This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/
Shamil / July 24, 2015
Mangala [Edited out]
John / July 24, 2015
Uphold the “Freedom of expression”
“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
maalumiris / July 24, 2015
.. may not agree with what you say and may also defend your right to say it but will also defend to the death, HIS right to stop you from saying or reading it !
Harry Hatton / July 24, 2015
Violating our right to information the Ranil took a stay order stopping the COPE report on Arjun Mahendran fraud at the Central bank. Among the suspects were Ranil, Malik,Ravi, Arjun,Ronald and Alloysius.
The suspect Ranil appointed three lawyers from his own party to investigate the fraud ! In order to divert attention they blamed the Bank of Ceylon !
This was a typical “master” move by Ranil, the report was already in the public domain !The stay order only created more interest in the COPE report !
Now he has withdrawn the Stay order! Does Ranil know whether he is coming or going ?
Ranil Wijeyesekera / July 24, 2015
There has to be clolleberation within medai institutions and public societies and IT and government to track offenders. There has to be ways of having a trace on on activity to block.
FIND OUT HOW. deatails on government to trace on.
justice / July 24, 2015
Politicians and governments who are guilty of unlawful acts always attempt to suppress this information, to survive.
Wrong doers fear the truth.
This happens in most countries.
This suppression may take various forms.
In Sri Lanka, we are relatively free of suppression of the truth.
But still, we have a long way to go.
Naga / July 26, 2015
Mangala will have no time to attend to the requests of the free media to protect the freedom of expression on the internet in Sri Lanka because he is busy appointing Ranil friends and supporters to plum diplomatic positions in the West.
This caretaker minority Ranil government should not be appointing diplomats after the Parliamentary elections had been called and nominations filed.
There are media reports that Mangala has nominated diplomats to UK, France, Italy, Austria and Japan. Four of these are important European Union nations and the fifth is an important Asian power that had very good friendly relationship with Sri Lanka.
I understand that none of these nominees are career diplomats.
I understand further that traditionally most of these postings are given to experienced career diplomats because of the nature of the work involved. I do not think that any of these nominees have any experience handling diplomatic assignments. In the past, I understand that career diplomats handled these assignments admirably. The European postings are not just to that country alone but cover other neighbouring EU member states with which Sri Lanka should continue to maintain good relationship.
More over, in some of these postings, the Sri Lankan envoys are required to work with international organisations based in those capitals handling various international relations topics. For example, SL envoy in Rome will have to deal with and attend UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO),World Food Programme (WFP), and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The SL Ambassador posted to Vienna , who I understand has to simultaneously function as the Sri Lankan envoy to at least 10 former East European nations many of which have now become European Union members, will be dealing with and attending sessions of such UN bodies such as UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization(CTBTO),and UN Office for Drugs & Crime. Sri Lankan ambassador to France, which is an important EU member nation, will have to deal with UNESCO, Industrial Energy Agency (IEA), and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) based in Paris. The posting to London is most important because the SL High Commissioner there will be dealing with the Commonwealth Secretariat, International Maritime Organization (IMO) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
What are the credentials of persons being posted to these Sri Lankan missions? What are their international diplomatic exposure? How many of them did studies or have knowledge in international relations, international law and diplomacy?
I understand that all of the nominees are friends and supporters of Ranil who had been personally helping him in one way or another. How will the host countries treat these people and what respect will they get?
I am certain most of these new Sri Lankan envoys will be going to their stations to draw handsome allowances in foreign currencies and to cool their heels doing virtually nothing.
This Maithri-Ranil yahapalanaya government which accused the Mahinda government of sending relatives and supporters as High Commissioners and Ambassadors is doing exactly what Mahinda government did. With these postings Sri Lanka will become the laughing stock of diplomats of other countries based in these capitals.
Ranil Wijeyesekera / July 26, 2015
Yes internet has to be safeguarded. But the government is duty bound to fight cyber crimes. Therfore it is neccesary to control. Secular Matrialism is changing all our lives. New Age is creping in. Pornagraphy is rampant. Some guidelines for ethical conduct is necessary.
old codger / July 29, 2015
I have never seen CT being blocked after Jan 8th, and very rarely during the Rajapaksa regime. I use SLT ADSL. Maybe the blocking is done by over-enthusiastic service providers