Colombo, March 13 (DDNews/newsin.asia): The people of Sri Lanka will have to wait till President Maithripala Sirisena comes back from Japan on March 17 to be freed from the island-wide, seven-day State of Emergency which was imposed on March 6 on account of the anti-Muslim riots in the Central highland district of Kandy.
The President’s Office told DDNews that the document to lift the Emergency is ready for signature.
The Emergency should end on March 13 as it had been imposed on March 6 for a period of seven days.
The Secretary to the President, Austin Fernando, explained that the Emergency cannot lifted in the absence of the President who is away on a State visit to Japan and will not be back in the island till March 17.
“He has to sign the declaration and that can’t be done until he comes back,” Fernando said.
Lifting of Ban on Social Media
As for lifting the ban on social media platforms, he said it will be done “step by step” with some platforms to be allowed by Wedneday.
But what is problematic is Facebook which is not only very widely used in Sri Lanka but is also the vehicle used by trouble makers to spread communal poison as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka found out after a survey.
Since government wants the Facebook authorities to filter the content or block certain sites or users, a team of Facebook officials based in the regional HQ in India will be in Colombo on March 15 to have extensive discussions with the Sri Lankan officials, technical personnel and security agencies.
Facebook was initially reluctant to do the needful pleading inability to do so. Reports said that Facebook does not have competent staff to look at and censor content in the Sinhalese language, the medium used to whip up anti-Muslim feelings in Kandy district which led to the destruction of Muslim owned property worth millions of Lankan Rupees.
But as Fernando said, Facebook saw the writing on the wall after it lost income from Sri Lanka due to the ban. It then decided to send a team saying that its policy is to see that its facilities are not used for nefarious purposes.
Meanwhile, the coalition government appears to be divided on the ban on social media, especially the popular Facebook.
Members of Parliament belonging to the United National Party (UNP) MPs and the media controlled by it have come out strongly against the continuance of the ban. Ministers Champika Ranawaka and Dr.Harsha de Silva have been made statements against the continuance of the ban. Former Law and Order Minister and a close confidante of the Prime Minister severely criticized continued the ban on the social media and wanted it removed forthwith.
The State-owned Sunday Observer coming under the UNP carried a cartoon showing cops dragging way a chained Facebook logo while houses are burning. Opposition MP Namal Rajapaksa said that it is ironical that a government which had brought into being the Right to Information Act should clamp down on all social media affecting freedom of communication.
US Ambassador Atul Keshap, in his second tweet on the subject ,said that the continued ban will hit tourism and businesses and will prevent people from communicating with their loved ones. The reputation of Sri Lanka as an open society will be damaged. Earlier, Keshap had tweeted that the real culprits were not the social media but “hate filled people” who ought to be tackled.
Western diplomats had got in touch with Austin Fernando and to find out when the ban on social media would be lifted. Fernando said that government is not the only institution involved, Facebook too, has a duty to perform, to filter the pernicious content.
“Profits alone cannot be the criterion,” Fernando said.