Moderating an event organised by a professional accounting association recently that had Hans Wijesuriya, CEO of Dialog Telekom in Sri Lanka as a guest speaker, I picked up on how he characterised Dialog, which he said was about “giving wings to equality” (exact quote).
This prompted me to ask him how he, as a professional businessperson dealt with decisions to cut off mobile and internet services for thousands in the embattled North and East of Sri Lanka whenever there was a military offensive by the Government of Sri Lanka.
I didn’t get a straight response. The same point posted online in other online fora have also only ever managed characteristically highly defensive responses.
To be fair, it’s not an issue that’s easy to speak about in the open and for obvious reasons. However, all telcos in Sri Lanka seem to be supinely willing to obey Government orders to shut down voice and data services without even so much as the threat of going to court to challenge the constitutionality of such edicts and allowing the legal system deliberate whether the need to ensure operational security in theatres of war trumps Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the right to communicate.
The following programme segment, from Young Asia Television’s No War Zone series, explores this issue in greater detail, and brings out some of the complexities of communications provisioning for communities caught up in violent conflict. Important to recall here is the position taken by Hamadoun Toure, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations telecoms agency, when Myanmar cut off all internet access. He said,
Secure access to the Internet is a basic human freedom that “needs to be preserved, no matter what, and no government has the right to cut off its citizens from cyberspace“
Connected to the video above is this one on Sri Lanka’s first mobile based news service.
Read the story behind the video here and a review of JNW’s performance in reporting an event related to the on-going conflict in Sri Lanka and in emergency warning.