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Sri Lanka blocks social media following communal violence

The Free Media Movement calls on the government to address recent eruptions of communal violence without suppressing freedom of expression in the country.

A boy looks through a broken window among the debris of a vandalized mosque in Digana, some 157 kms from Colombo, Sri Lanka, 9 March 2018
A boy looks through a broken window among the debris of a vandalized mosque in Digana, some 157 kms from Colombo, Sri Lanka, 9 March 2018

Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on FMM's Facebook page on 8 March 2018.

The Free Media Movement believes that in the wake of the communal violence that occurred in the areas of Ampara and Kandy districts, media institutions performed their civic duties to the best of their abilities and their actions should be given due praise. The situation raised concern over several other issues that need to be taken into account by the state as well as by civil society.

The recent exertions showed that media institutions performed their duties in such a manner as to safeguard the profession from external forces and orders, proving that the Sri Lankan media community does follow an independent discipline in conducting their work. Moreover, this positive situation should be developed further, enabling journalists to perform their functions in a more efficient manner.

One of the main reasons behind the recent violence are statements of hate being circulated in social media, and this enabled many of us to analyze actions taken against such activities in order to figure out strategies to prevent the recurrence of such situations.

However, we believe that actions taken to prevent the use of social media to trigger hate and violence, should not be allowed to hinder democracy by contravening a citizen's right to freedom of expression. It is on this basis that Free Media Movement responds to the decision taken by the government to declare a state of emergency and block all social media networks.

The Government did not set a good example by declaring the state of emergency and blocking social media platforms in its attempts to control this conflict situation, which could have been mitigated under the normal law.

A state of Emergency has been declared by the government on numerous occasions throughout history. Yet we have historical evidence to prove that respective governments later used this situation to suppress the right to democratic practices.

Therefore, the Free Media Movement urges the government to practice the standard law and [raise] public awareness by mitigating harmful activities targeting ethnic groups. We request the government to ensure that their current decisions such as declaring the state of emergency shall not hinder democracy and its good practices.

C.Dodawatta(Convener) | Dileesha Abesundara (Secretary)

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