The Sri Lankan government on Sunday blocked social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram after declaring a nationwide public emergency and imposing a 36-hour curfew ahead of a planned anti-government rally over the worst economic crisis in the island nation.
IMAGE: Sri Lankan Special Task Force and Police officers stand guard at the top of the road to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, after police officers and demonstrators clashed at a protest against him, as many parts of the crisis-hit country faced up to 13 hours without electricity due to a shortage of foreign currency to import fuel, in Colombo. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
The move is aimed at preventing masses from gathering in Colombo to protest the government’s failure to provide relief to the public suffering from shortages of food, essentials, fuel and medicine amidst hours-long power cuts, the Colombo Page newspaper reported.
NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the Internet, confirmed the restriction of multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber and YouTube in Sri Lanka after midnight on Sunday.
NetBlocks, reported that real-time network data collected from over 100 vantage points across Sri Lanka show the restrictions coming into effect across multiple providers from midnight.
Metrics corroborate user reports of service unavailability across the country, showing that all of Sri Lanka’s major network operators including Dialog, Sri Lanka Telecom, Mobitel, Hutch are covered by the measure, the report said.
Fully or partially impacted social media and messaging platforms include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TokTok, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger, it said.
Earlier, NetBlocks tracked a significant decline in connectivity levels on internet provider Dialog from March 29, coinciding with the onset of the protests.
The island nation braced for country-wide protests on Sunday against the government’s poor handling of the ongoing economic crisis where people currently endure long hours of power outages and scarcity of essentials. The imposition of curfew would prevent citizens from holding protests.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a special gazette notification late on Friday night, declaring a public emergency in Sri Lanka with immediate effect from April 1.
The government also imposed a 36-hour curfew with effect from 6 pm Saturday to 6 am Monday (April 4).
A Sri Lankan man on Saturday alleged that his son, who is a social media activist, has been abducted by the police.
Anurudda Bandara’s father said his son was taken away by someone from the north Colombo police station of Modera on Friday night.
According to the police, he was wanted to be questioned over his social media activities. On Sunday, he was released on bail.
Sri Lanka is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis in history. With long lines for fuel, cooking gas, essentials in short supply and long hours of power cuts the public has been suffering for weeks.
Rajapaksa has defended his government’s actions, saying the foreign exchange crisis was not his making and the economic downturn was largely pandemic driven where the island’s tourism revenue and inward remittances waning.