UNHCR’s RefWorld features a report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that raises fears over a regime of Internet censorship in Sri Lanka broader and deeper than what exists at present. There is an element of hyperbole here – calling Sri Lanka an enemy of the Internet is, as yet, far too premature in light of the violent and far more pervasive web censorship in regimes such as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.
However, concerns over the general tendency of the Sri Lankan state today to censor information deemed inconvenient, whether it be on the web or in print, are validated by examples provided in the report and other evidence.
Since the escalation of fighting in the country at the end of 2008, news posted online has increasingly become the target of restrictions. The website of Human Rights Watch is regularly inaccessible, which has given rise to a general fear of Internet censorship, which until now principally hit websites seen as pro-Tamil Tigers. The defence ministry released a report on 11 December 2008, on its website, defence.lk, in which it called reports on the Sinhala service of the BBC World Service “diabolical lies”. The BBC journalists are accused of being accomplices in Tamil Tiger propaganda, when they raise the plight of civilians living in combat zones.
The news website Lankadissent chose to cease operating on 10 January 2009 for fear of becoming the target of reprisals. The highly critical publication employed journalists who had lost their jobs after the closure of the newspaper Mawbima, under official pressure. The experience of the website TamilNet served as an example. In 2005, the website’s editor Dharmeratnam Sivaram “Taraki” was murdered because his coverage of the political and military situation was seen as hostile by the government. His killers have not been found and the site is blocked inside the country. The editor of the site E-thalay.org (http://www.ethalaya.org), Kumudu Champika Jayawardana, was the target of an ambush in 2007 after he became the target for pro-government militia because of articles posted online.
RSF does not cover the example of http://www.outreachsl.com, shut down after the incarceration of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam. There are specific fears of web media censorship I have also covered here, framed by the devastating erosion of the freedom of expression and media freedom in Sri Lanka.