March 12, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Sri Lanka

In the wake of the military victory over the Tamil Tigers and presidential elections held in an environment of propaganda and intimidations, Sri Lanka is re-emerging with a government visibly determined to intensify its control of Internet-based information. Despite the end of the bloody civil war that has decimated the country for decades, the repression of dissident voices continues, and may well become commonplace. Independent news websites blocked a few hours before presidential election results were announced Even though the blocking had so far been mainly limited to sites sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers, the Lankaenews, Lankanewsweb, Infolanka and Sri Lanka Guardian independent websites were rendered inaccessible on the island by the primary Internet service provider, Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) on February 26, 2010. The free circulation of information at election time is nonetheless one of the rare guarantees against massive voting fraud. Such censorship has shown the government’s unease and attempts at manipulation. The Lankaenews offices were surrounded by police and its director received a death threat at the end of January. The newspaper’s website had already been temporarily blocked in July 2009 after covering incidents that occurred in the displaced civilians’ camps during the military offensives. One online journalist missing and netizens threatened Political analyst and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, a journalist for the news site Lankaenews, has been reported missing since the night of January 24. He had told a close friend that he thought he had been followed for several days. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, one of his colleagues confirmed that he was being threatened because of his political analyses. Just before the elections, he had indicated his preference for the opposition candidate, General Fonseka. The Sri Lankan journalists recall the traumatizing experience of the TamilNet website, whose director had been abducted and then killed in Colombo in 2005. The site had been subsequently blocked. The murderers are still at large. International community watch This summer, Sri Lanka will be temporarily removed from the list of countries benefiting from the GSP+, a treatment that grants preferential rates within the European Union to certain developing countries practicing sustainable development and good governance. This will be done in expectation of an improvement in the country’s human rights situation and, in particular, that of freedom of expression. The weekly Sunday Times, in its February 14 edition, revealed that Chinese IT experts will be visiting Sri Lanka in March 2010 to advise authorities on how to set up an Internet censorship system aimed at blocking “offensive” websites. Also according to the weekly, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission will introduce legislation to make registration with the institution mandatory for all websites. Measures will also be taken to impose controls on the Google search engine. On February 17, the news website Lanka News Web, stated that the President had allegedly asked the Chairman of the Regulatory Commission to wait until the general elections were over to set up a Net filtering system. Websites that get more than 200,000 visitors a day will be required to register with the Ministry of Information. However, the Telecommunications Development Program is financed by the World Bank via the Institutional Development Fund (IDF). The World Bank reacted quickly, on February 15, explaining that the grant agreement “has no provision or scope to utilize these funds to implement an Internet censorship program,” and went on to say that “the Bank would not approve any such provision.” The April parliamentary elections will represent the next test for freedom of expression in the country. The international community should keep a close watch on the situation in order to ensure that Sri Lanka does not end up taking permanent control of the news media, particularly online.