Colombo April 3 (newsin.asia): Sri Lanka on Sunday blocked social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber, YouTube and Tik Tok, fearing the spread of agitations against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government.
The rule of the Rajapaksa family, comprising Gotabaya, Mahinda, Chamal and Namal Rajapaksa, is now characterized by severe shortages of forex and of essential commodities including food, fuel and medicines. Every section of society is feeling the pinch or more accurately the pain.
But government is convinced that the agitations, which had been occurring around the island including Colombo city for some time, were organized by social media groups led by unidentified extremists. What might have scared the government was the demonstration near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence in Mirihana on Thursday which was marked by the burning of an army bus and the thrashing of the police commandos by the irate crowd. The crowd had been peacefully demonstrating for hours but turned violent suddenly, provoked by the police apparently.
Sure, a few of the “news” circulated in the social media were harmful. There was an atrocious story in one of the Tamil-owned websites this week which said that Indian troops comprising the Punjab and Madras regiments were heading towards Sri Lanka in naval ships. An alarmed Indian High Commission had to issue a press release condemning the blatantly false story calculated to instigate anti-India elements in the population.
Be that as it may, an increasingly intolerant government arrested a leading social media activist and university student, Thisara Anuruddha Bandara. He was subsequently released on bail. The case against him, under the Penal Code, is still going on. However, the government appears to be apprehensive that an Arab Spring type of movement might be in the offing with the use of the social media.
But fortunately for the government, no opposition party, including the once violent Janatha Vimukthi Pramuna (JVP), wants a violent overthrow. They have publicly said so. All they want are elections to choose a new government. Some have suggested an inclusive caretaker government.
Meanwhile, living conditions have improved, albeit only marginally, with the arrival 200,000 mt of fuel from India under an Indian line of credit. 40,000 mt was delivered very recently. This will ease the power generation and transport situation.
The Indian Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar has said that India is working overtime to supply food, medicines and fuel. The State Bank of India is expediting the financial aspects of the Indian aid.
But the promulgation of the State of Emergency is worrying human rights activists and watch-dog groups like the Centre for Policy Alternatives because the powers vested in the Executive President under it are sweeping, sans checks and balances. They fear that the Emergency may be retained just to be able to feel secure in the face of a restive population.
The other worry is that if political peace and calm are not restored and the State of Emergency continues, tourism, which is just recovering from the 2019 bomb blasts and the 2020-21 pandemic, will receive a body blow again. Tourist arrivals had come down from 2.3 million in 2018 to 175,509 in the first two months of 2022. In normal times, tourism is a US$10 billion industry.