Sri Lanka has strictly limited access to various social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, according to internet monitoring firm NetBlocks, after the government implemented a curfew to combat threatening amid an extraordinary economic crisis.
Real-time network data indicates Sri Lanka imposed a country-wide socioeconomic media blackout, restricting access to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Instagram as an emergency was declared amid widespread protests, NetBlocks tweeted.
“The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission has also blocked social media,” Nihal Thalduwa, a senior officer, told Reuters.
The constraints come after the government imposed a nationwide curfew on Saturday in response to violent protests against the government’s approach to the economic crisis. The curfew will be in effect until 6 a.m. (0530 GMT) on Monday.
According to Thalduwa, police arrested 664 people who violated curfew rules in the Western Province, the country’s most populous administrative division, which includes Colombo.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared an emergency on Friday, stoking concerns of a clampdown on demonstrations as the country suffers from inflation, food shortages, and power outages.
In the past, emergency powers have permitted the armed services to apprehend and detain perpetrators without authorization, but the concepts of the existing powers are unclear.
Apart from the opposing party’s protest and large queues of vehicles queuing for fuel, Colombo’s streets were deserted on Sunday.
According to police, one man died after already being electrocuted while climbing a rising pylon near Rajapaksa’s home. Residents claimed he was protesting rolling power outages.
Protests were scheduled for Sunday before the social networking blackout took effect, but organizers have postponed them until the curfew is declared on Monday.
The escalating demonstrations have caused schisms within the government, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s nephew, Namal Rajapaksa, denouncing the partial website blackout. “I will never condone social media blocking,” said Namal, the country’s sports minister.
A junior party has also suggested that it may end up leaving the governing party within the next week. The move would not endanger the government’s survival, but it would jeopardise its ability to lawfully extend the country’s state of emergency declaration.
Western officials in Colombo have voiced alarm about the use of laws adopted to stifle representative democracy dissent and have stated that they are closely monitoring events.
The influential Sri Lankan Bar Association has also called on the government to lift the national emergency, which enables security services to apprehend and detain suspects for extended periods without charges.
Over the weekend, solidarity protests were held around the world, including in Melbourne, Australia, which has a large Sri Lankan diaspora.
Sri Lanka is starting to struggle to service its ballooning $51 billion foreign debt due to a critical shortage of international currency, with the pandemic jeopardizing vital revenue and money transfers.
The emergency has also rendered the resource-country unable to pay for even basic necessities. In recent days, diesel shortfalls have caused outrage across Sri Lanka, resulting in protests at empty pumps and electricity utilities imposing 13-hour power outages to conserve fuel.
Many economists believe the government’s poor management, years of existing debt, and poor tax cuts have exacerbated the crisis.
Sri Lanka is trying to negotiate a bailout with the international financial institutions.