Govt. exploited Kandy violence to block social media - Civil society activist



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Civil society activist Chamara Nakandala yesterday alleged that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had used recent ethnic violence at Ampara and some parts of the Kandy district to clamp down on social media as the administration couldn’t stomach criticism, especially after Feb. 10 local government polls debacle.

 Nakandala said that about 30 groups, including UPFA a Bright Future, Madyawediya,Lankacnews, Info Sri Lanka, Ceylon Motorcyclists Association, Tharunaya and Parapuraka Balaya (Power of Generation) met at the Center for Society and Religion on Tuesday (March 13) to discuss government efforts to stifle social media.

 Nakandala said that yahapalana leaders had been severely upset over face book criticism and were waiting for an opportunity to curb social media. Had face book posts influenced violence as alleged by the government, the entire country, particularly the Western Province could have gone up in flames, Nakandala said. The number of Facebook users in the Western Province was much higher than in other provinces, he said.

 Having had repeatedly thanked social media for helping the UNP led coalition to oust the previous Rajapaksa administration, President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe were now gunning for the same, Nakandala said, adding that yahapalana grandees certainly owed an explanation as to the unprecedented blockade on social media.

 No less a person than Assistant Leader of the UNP Ravi Karunanayake, MP alleged that some members of the yahapalana administration were responsible for recent communal violence, Nakandala said.

Pointing out that police had sought public information as regards those who had been responsible for violence; Nakandala said that law enforcement authorities shouldn’t ignore the former finance minister’s revelation.

Nakandala pointed out that cabinet spokesman and health minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, too, had named some members of a political party therefore he should be questioned.

He said they wouldn’t condone Facebook users promoting violence against any community. Urging the government to take punitive action against those abusing the influential social media or any other method of communication, Nakandala said that yahapalana government should be ashamed of its bid to muzzle social media.

 Nakandala said that had the UNP and the SLFP achieved better results at the recently concluded local government polls and the government wasn’t under fire over treasury bond scams, President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe wouldn’t have had to resort to foolish strategies to curb public resentment.

Alleging that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government was pursuing authoritarian strategies, Nakandala said that several months before Ampara and Kandy trouble the government blocked trilingual The Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) blocked the website resulting in the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) taking up the issue.

The social activist said the police could easily establish the identities of those who had access to hate posts and where such posts originated. Nakandala said the yahapalana reaction to social media criticism was even worse than that of the Rajapaksa administration.

 Western powers and international NGOs must have been really surprised and shaken by the yahapalana approach to public criticism, Nakandala said, asserting that they wouldn’t have to depend on draconian measures if yahapalana principles were followed.

UNP and SLFP leaders shouldn’t think public was naive to believe Facebook rants caused Kandy mayhem. Referring to a statement made by Minister of Muslim Affairs H.A. Haleem, Nakandala said that the UNP politician quoted affected community members as having said that the police allowed attackers to storm Digana and other areas. The police should seek a statement from him too, Nakandala said, adding that the National Freedom Front spokesman Mohammed Muzammil recently alleged government complicity in violence.

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