Will the World Bank indirectly support web censorship in Sri Lanka?

The World Bank issued a press release on 15 February in response to a report in the Sunday Times (Chinese here for cyber censorship) noting that,

The World Bank would like to clarify its position regarding the Institutional Development Fund (IDF) Grant for the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC), Sri Lanka. The signed grant agreement which came into effect in 2009 has no provision or scope to utilize these funds to implement an Internet censorship program as implied by the Sunday Times lead story titled “Chinese here for cyber censorship… [World Bank funding] does not include any provisions or scope to include Internet censorship and the Bank would not approve any such provision.

The full press release can be read here.

However, the TRC is currently headed by an outright apparatchik of the President. Even before, the TRC – a public institution – outrageously violated its own guiding principles by allowing the President’s Office to send, on two occasions, unsolicited SMS’s to all mobile subscribers in Sri Lanka. No action was taken by the Elections Commissioner at the time to reign in this abuse. Even post-war, sites like news.tamilcanadian.com and Tamilnet.com remain blocked without any legal injunction from ISPs in Sri Lanka. The fear of a partisan TRC acting as an extension of Executive whim to impose arbitrary and ill-defined measures to control and censor independent media online are therefore real and warranted.

In this context, we should demand from the World Bank that the grant be withdrawn unless the TRC is democratised and all censorship is stopped. Saying that the grant is not directly for censorship is not good enough.

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