In a positive development that raises more questions than it addresses, the Sunday Times reports today that the President has “ordered the suspension of a plan by Sri Lanka’s telecommunications regulator to censor anti-government websites by blocking access to it with Chinese assistance.” This then is a clear admission that plans were afoot to control and curtail the freedom of expression online, despite recent denials from government.
The President’s order may be an election gimmick or sincere. Its actual application may be suspect. But along with his instructions to the IGP over the arrest of journalists, it is a welcome respite from, however short lived, official web censorship.
Unofficially of course, it is a different story. Why for example did the TRC’s Anusha Palpita say just a few days ago that though he was in favour of content regulation, censorship was not on the cards? Some other questions that spring to mind are,
- Why has there not been any comment by the Chinese surrounding this controversy and a lot of domestic and international media coverage? Is silence a tacit admission of complicity?
- What extra oversight must the World Bank employ if as the Sunday Times story suggests, funding given to the TRC was going to be misappropriated in secret?
- What does the government have to say about the existing regime of web censorship? Even under court order, this regime is haphazard in operation, and there are a number of sites that are inaccessible without any legal writ whatsoever. Who gave the order to block them? Why? Under which law?
The problem is this, the government will get draconian measures ready but will not reveal them till after the elections – why give the opposition another handle to beat it with – then will come the LIDA communication straight-jacket and legislation to smother dissent.