Sri Lanka: Illegal blocking of public interest news site must be investigated

Sri Lanka: Illegal blocking of public interest news site must be investigated - Media

Niranjan teaches an Internet School for Farmers (ISFF) class at the future academy community school.

ARTICLE 19, along with 8 other civil society groups, has signed an open letter calling for an investigation into recent blocking of online access to the Colombo Telegraph, an online newspaper regarding Sri Lankan affairs which is run by a group of exiled journalists. 

The Letter

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Telecommunications, Hon. Mangala Samaraweera
Telecommunication & Information Technology Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

July 23, 2015

Dear Sir,
As supporters and defenders of freedom of expression rights, we request you, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Telecommunications, to fulfil your promise to investigate the recent illegal blocking of online access to the Colombo Telegraph.

President Maithripala Sirisena gave a specific order to lift direct online censorship of the news service as one of his first acts in power. But as you know, a recent technical investigation by the Colombo Telegraph and Danish experts discovered a month later that the blocking had merely continued in a more subtle, covert and illegal form.

The source of the interference was traced to a server in the central office of Sri Lanka Telecom at the OTS Building in Lotus Road, Colombo. We thank you for promptly calling the editor of the Colombo Telegraph on February 7 to “express regret” at the incident and promise an immediate investigation with a public report to follow.

We are disappointed that there has since been no apparent progress with the investigation. The possibility that individuals within the Sri Lankan telecommunications sector may be illegally interfering with public access to news websites without legal authority is one that concerns us all.

Though we disapprove of the practice, we note that websites can be “prohibited or be subject to supervision and control” under S.69 of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act 1991 – but only under ministerial authority, and under a publicly announced order. No such order was made to replace the one lifted by President Sirisena.

With elections due, the media must be free to cover the upcoming campaigns without fear of interference, covert or overt, online or off. A positive way of easing a specific threat is to complete your investigations and publish its conclusions this month, before the elections take place in August.

With thanks for your time, interest and commitment to date,

Signed by the following international organisations:

ARTICLE 19, London
Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), Bangalore
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), San Francisco
English PEN, London
Index on Censorship, London
Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), London
Vivarta, London
World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Frankfurt & Paris