There is an extremely disturbing news report published today on Lanka News Web which suggests the Sri Lankan government is pulling out all stops to censor and control free expression online.
This comes in the context of news that the President himself is now in charge of the Media Ministry, and that Anusha Palpita, the person in charge of the Government Information Department is now part time, also in control of the Telecommunications Regulations Commission (TRC). Quite apart from the report on Lanka News Web, these developments point to the consolidation of media control (and censorship) in the hands of the President and his apparatchiks, which is extremely disturbing given the Rajapakse regime’s ignoble record of protecting the freedom of expression.
The Lanka News Web article notes,
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) is in the process of formulating regulations to be imposed on news websites, it is learnt. Chinese military intelligence specialists have reportedly been approached to formulate these firewalls. Sources from TRC said several Chinese specialists are to visit the country during the next few weeks for this purpose. The TRC is to also make it compulsory for all news websites operating in the country to register with the Commission. It is also planned to make news websites in the country to operate through an internet protocol address provided by the TRC. A similar system is followed by the Chinese government.
This news item comes in the wake of another published by a newspaper on Chinese involvement in the TRC’s attempts to control social networking sites in Sri Lanka plus very disturbing trends in curtailing online news just before and after the recently held Presidential elections. As I noted in Chavez equates Twitter with terrorism: Disturbing parallels with Sri Lankan Government?, these include,
- Three arrested for spreading SMS and Facebook rumours (and related Govt. comes down hard on SMS conspirators)
- Clamping down on websites in Sri Lanka with Chinese help (and related Facebook users come under scrutiny)
- Anti-national elements may be arrested – Keheliya (“… anyone who engaged in campaigns against national security and Sri Lanka’s sovereignt (sic) by sending false messages via mobile phones would be arrested forthwith and be dealt with according to the law.”)
- Websites blocked just hours before poll results due to be announced (and relatedAs Sri Lanka election nears, pro-opposition writer vanishes)
Though the Lanka News Web story is unverified, it is this context of existing censorship of online media that strengthens significant concerns over even more control and censorship, aided by the Chinese.
So the challenge, and it is both urgent and vital to online freedom of expression, is how we can verify this news story?