Colombo: Amidst the state of emergency and a 36-hour long curfew imposed in Sri Lanka, the island nation’s military has blocked all social media platforms ahead of an anti-government protest planned for Sunday.
The Ministry of Technology announced that the social media platforms were blocked on the direction of Ministry of Defence.
Calls for Sunday’s protest was made via social media platforms, while the hashtags “#GoHomeRajapaksas” and “#GotaGoHome” trending for days.
Director General of Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) also announced that it temporary blocked the social media platforms on the request of the Defence Ministry.
Confirming the development that started on Saturday midnight, NetBlocks, a watchdog group that monitors cyber security, said in a tweet: “Confirmed: Real-time network data show Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide social media blackout, restricting access to platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Instagram as emergency is declared amid widespread protests.”
Meanwhile a social media activist and university student, Thisara Anuruddha Bandara who is said to have created the #GotaGoHome hashtag, was arrested on Saturday. He was released later after a large number of social activists, lawyers and politicians surrounded the police station.
Burdened by the economic crisis from multiple fronts including lack of fuel, LPG, 13-hour power cuts, shortage of food such as milk powder due to inflation and the dollar crisis, protests have erupted across the country demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign.
With demands for his immediate resignation, protesters on Thursday night surrounded President Rajapaksa’s house. The police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
In the wake of the violence, the President imposed the state of emergency allowing the military to arrest people, while a 36-hour nationwide curfew also came into effect from Saturday evening.
While the opposition, civil rights groups and legal experts have condemned Rajapaksa’s move, the government has alleged that the violence during Thursday’s protest was introduced by an ‘extremist’ group which wanted enforce an ‘Arab Spring’ in Sri Lanka.
At least 50 protesters were arrested in connection.
In the wake of the violence, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, tweeted: “We are monitoring developments and are concerned by reports of violence in Sri Lanka. Calling for restraint from all groups.”
Also in a tweet, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung said: “Sri Lankans have the right the right to protest peacefully- essential for democratic expression. “I am watching the situation closely, and hope the coming days bring restraint from all sides, as well as much needed economic stability and relief for those suffering.”
In an announcement on Sunday, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) said that the 13-hour power cuts would be reduced to one hour and 40 minutes as 40,000 MT of diesel under Indian Line of Credit of $500 million arrived at the Colombo Harbour on Saturday.
Since January, India has helped Sri Lanka with financial assistant of over $2.5 billion to battle looming economic crisis due to dried up dollar reserves and mounting inflation.