Freedom on the Net

Freedom on the Net 2016

Sri Lanka

Country Profile

Status: 
Partly Free
Image Graph showing the Selected Country Flag

Internet Freedom Scores

(Freedom on the Net Score:
0=Most Free, 100=Less Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 21 million
Internet Penetration: 30 percent
Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: No
Political/Social Content Blocked: Yes
Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested: No
Press Freedom Status: Not Free
Key Developments: 

June 2015—May 2016

  • Internet freedom continued to improve under President Maithripala Sirisena, though free speech advocates criticized his reactivation of the draconian Press Council (see Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation).
  • In an isolated incident, one political website was reported to have been blocked by a telecommunications provider (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • The government withdrew draft legislation to criminalize hate speech after political and civil society opposition (see Legal Environment).
  • Digital activism increased and activists used social media to spur public engagement with political issues (see Digital Activism).
Introduction: 

Following the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 2015 presidential election, internet freedom has improved considerably in Sri Lanka. During the coverage period of this report, there were no reports of attacks, arrests or intimidation for online activities, in contrast to previous years.

Despite securing a nomination to run in the August 2015 parliamentary election, Rajapaksa and his supporters were unable to defeat the incumbent government. The United National Party (UNP)-led United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) secured 106 seats in a 225-member legislature, but fell short of a majority.1 After negotiations, the UNP signed a two-year memorandum of understanding with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to form a government.2

For the most part, internet freedom continued to improve under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.3 All websites blocked by the previous government continue to be accessible, including the exile-run news website TamilNet, which had been blocked since 2007 for reporting on the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).4 Digital activism continues to strengthen. In the lead up to election, activists launched voter education campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, and news websites adopted mobile messaging platforms like WhatsApp to keep citizens informed.

However, in a move that went against his election promises, President Sirisena reactivated the draconian Press Council in July 2015 despite civil society opposition, chilling media freedom including online. Separately, the government’s attempt to introduce legislation to criminalize hate speech (even though such a law already exists) was thwarted by civil society groups and opposition parties who argued that the proposed law could be used to target government critics. In one isolated case, supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa said their website had been blocked in advance of the election.

Legal and regulatory reform is still needed to consolidate the opening for internet and media freedom. At the end of the coverage period of this report, an amended Right to Information bill was still under discussion, a public consultation process on transitional justice was underway, and a constitutional reform process had just begun.

Obstacles to Access:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Less Free)

Internet penetration in Sri Lanka continues to increase every year due to the affordable rates offered by ISPs. Moreover, an increasing segment of the population has turned to smartphones in order to access the web. According to the Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka’s digital literacy rate increased from 20 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2014. Regulatory reform to ensure independence and transparency is a pressing need as Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) continues to operate under the authority of President Sirisena, with his permanent secretary as its chairman.

Availability and Ease of Access

The International Telecommunication Union estimated internet penetration at 30 percent in 2015, up from 26 percent in 2014, as a continually expanding economic sector and a growing youth population drove demand for online services.5 Mobile penetration was reported at 112 percent.6 The Central Bank of Sri Lanka reported that mobile internet connections grew 22.2 percent, while fixed-line connections grew by 12.6 percent during 2015.7

Free access to the internet was a key campaign promise of President Sirisena and it was featured in his manifesto for the presidential election. A few months after his election victory, the interim government announced the availability of free Wi-Fi at 26 public locations around the country.8 The Information Communications and Technology Agency (ICTA), a state agency responsible for implementing the plan, announced that free Wi-Fi would be available at over 2000 public locations by the end of 2016.9 The government’s 2016 Budget proposals included a plan to provide free internet to state universities.10

Internet connectivity is becoming more affordable, with Sri Lanka Telecom’s cheapest broadband connections priced at just under US$3 a month,11 and Dialog’s only slightly more.12 In addition, increasingly affordable handsets and data packages have boosted mobile internet use, particularly among young people.13 The overall growth rate for the market has been consistent year on year. In early 2016, according to the Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure, smartphone penetration stood at 26 percent,14 up from an estimated 20 percent at the end of 2014.15 Technology company Huawei described Sri Lanka as the fastest growing smartphone market in South Asia in 2015.16 Monthly subscriptions for mobile data packages can cost less than $1 a month whilst users can also access data services through pay-as-you-use packages.17 Mobitel also offers 24-hour internet plans costing as little as LKR 3 (US$0.02) for 17MB of data.18 Sri Lanka’s average monthly household income is over $300,19 making the cost of internet and mobile data packages relatively affordable given the range of pricing options.

However, accessibility to internet services, in terms of greater coverage, continues to be a priority for the incumbent government. The ICTA signed an agreement with Google to start testing Project Loon—a balloon-powered high-speed internet service—with the aim of connecting more of the population to the internet. Three balloons launched by Project Loon entered Sri Lanka’s airspace in February 2016.20 It is expected that service providers will be able to extend coverage and also provide higher speeds through the balloons.21 The Minister of Telecommunications has stated that internet penetration will increase to 50 percent as a result of the project and other developments.22 After the initial media blitz on the project in 2015, there have been limited updates. News reports said Google would work with existing ISPs and share the frequencies after testing is complete.23 Some form of a joint venture is expected to be established to take the project forward.

While Wi-Fi coverage appears to be increasing every year, telecommunications experts have voiced concerns about the reliability of speeds delivered through public Wi-Fi spots.24 ISPs are attempting to address the issue of speed with new and improved services. SLT introduced carrier-grade public Wi-Fi technology, allowing enterprises, institutions and other private sector entities to access island-wide hotspots with a username and password.25 In July 2015, Dialog Broadband announced the start of its LTE Advanced Pilot Network, which would provide data speeds in excess of 100 Mbps for home broadband users, initially within selected areas of Colombo.26 As of March 2016, Dialog operated over 2,500 pay-to-use Wi-Fi hotspots around the country with tiered subscription rates.27 SLT reported over 70 Wi-Fi nationwide hotspots for its broadband subscribers and prepaid access.28

Low digital literacy represents a major barrier to ICT use. Although Sri Lanka’s literacy rate is approximately 91 percent,29 only 20 percent of the population was comfortable using computers in 2009.30 However, this increased to 27 percent in 2015, according to the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS).31 The department reported that a higher percentage of young people use computers (57 percent for ages 15-19; 52 percent for ages 20-24; and 43 percent for ages 25-29). Older age groups had a lower rate of digital literacy (26 percent for ages 35-39 and 16 percent for ages 40-49).32 Digital literacy was higher in urban areas (40 percent) and lower in rural areas and among Up-Country communities (24 percent and 7 percent respectively) where the high cost of personal computers limits access for lower-income families, and schools with digital facilities lack corresponding literacy programs. The ICTA has promoted digital literacy in rural areas by establishing community-based knowledge centers, e-libraries, and e-learning centers to promote ICT access and services,33 though some local journalists criticized aspects of the initiative in the past.34 The Department of Census and Statistics has also reported climbing computer acquisition rates, with almost 67 percent of households acquiring a first computer between 2010 and 2014.35 The acquisition rate was 70 percent in the rural sector and 56 percent in the urban sector.

The civil war caused severe lags in infrastructure development for the northern and eastern provinces. Since its conclusion in 2009, the government has made up some of this ground, thereby boosting the regions’ economic growth, though development was also criticized for causing issues with respect to land ownership that threatened to further marginalize the local Tamil community, among others in the region.36 There has been some progress following the change in government. In April 2015, the military confirmed that it had released 1,000 acres of land from high-security zones (HSZs) in the Northern province.37 In March 2016, the Navy released over 177 acres of land in Sampur, which is in the Eastern province, to rightful owners who had been previously displaced due to the conflict and the occupation of their lands.38 However, militarization and the existence of other HSZs remain a serious concern.39 More positively, census data identified heavy internet usage in post-war minority districts in 2011 and 2012, citing Vavuniya in the Northern Province as the district with the country’s highest household internet usage.40 In 2014, the Northern Province had the second highest percentage of households reporting internet and email usage in the entire country (11 and 8 percent respectively). In 2015, this encouraging trend continued. Vavuniya had the country’s second highest rate of internet usage (18 percent); Jaffna had the fourth highest (17 percent).41

Restrictions on Connectivity

Sri Lanka has access to multiple international cables, but the majority of the landing stations for these cables is controlled by Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), the majority government-owned ISP.42 Lanka Bell, a private operator, controls one landing station. SLT does not allow other telecommunications companies to connect to landing stations using their own fiber network and instead imposes price barriers by making competing players lease connectivity at significantly high prices.43 The state’s control over the internet architecture in the country is problematic, especially when non-price barriers emerge, such as delays in responding to private companies’ requests for increased capacity.

In May 2016, however, Dialog announced that Sri Lanka was now connected to the Ultra High Capacity BBG Submarine Fibre Optic Cable through its cable landing station located in the south of Colombo.44 The connection will boost speeds by providing over 6 Tbps of international bandwidth. It is reported that Dialog will allow other operators to buy bandwidth and directly compete with its data prices.

SLT also announced the opening of a new cable landing station for SEA-ME-WE-5 in the south of Sri Lanka in early 2016.45 In 2014, SLT entered into a partnership with 15 international telecom operators and formed a consortium to build the SEA-ME-WE 5 undersea cable system to connect 17 countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe.46

There were no large-scale connectivity interruptions during the coverage period of this report, although they have occurred in the past. SLT temporarily severed internet and 8,000 mobile phone connections in the predominantly Tamil-speaking north and east in 2007, then the center of the conflict with the LTTE.47

ICT Market

SLT commanded more than 41 percent of the total fixed-line market in 2013, which is substantially lower than the 87 percent it held in 2004.48 President Sirisena appointed his brother as the chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom in January 2015.49

With over 10.5 million subscribers,50 Dialog Axiata is the largest mobile service provider, followed by Mobitel (over 5 million),51 Etisalat (3.8 million), Airtel-Bharti Lanka (1.8 million), and Hutchison Telecommunications (1.4 million).52 So far, only Dialog Axiata, Mobitel, Sri Lanka Telecom and Lanka Bell offer 4G LTE broadband services.53

Regulatory Bodies

Regulatory reform continues to be a pressing issue. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) was established under the Sri Lanka Telecommunications (Amendment) Act, No. 27 of 1996, which states that the Secretary to the Minister of Telecommunications will also be Chairman of the TRC.54 Over the years, the TRC’s interventions to restrict online content and pronouncements on strengthening online regulation have been partisan, extralegal, and repressive.55

During Rajapaksa’s presidency, the Ministry was placed under his authority for a period of time and his secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, served as Chairman. In February 2015, after Rajapaksa’s defeat in the presidential election, a businessman lodged a complaint at the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) against Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita, the former director-general of the TRC, for the alleged misappropriation of LKR 620 million (US$4 million) in TRC funds for the former president’s election campaigns.56 In May 2016, the Attorney General’s Department filed indictments before the High Court against Weeratunga and Palpita under the Public Property Act and the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Act for the alleged criminal misappropriation of public funds.57 This news came in the same month that Palpita was appointed as Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs, increasing skepticism about the incumbent government’s commitment to its own political program of yahapalanaya, or good governance. Civil society organizations opposed the appointment,58 and he was subsequently removed.59

President Sirisena, like his predecessor, appointed his permanent secretary, P. B. Abeykoon, as the Chairman of the TRC.60 President Sirisena also appointed M. M. Zuhair, a former Member of Parliament, diplomat and current President’s Counsel, as the TRC director-general.61 These political appointees, who lacked the necessary experience and expertise, were cause for concern given the TRC’s interventions in the past. In October 2015, not long after their appointment, M. M. Zuhair and the board of directors were fired by President Sirisena for violating TRC financial regulations.62 Zuhair was replaced by Sunil S. Sirisena, a retired, senior member of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service.63

Limits on Content:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Less Free)

During the coverage period of this report, a website belonging to former President Rajapaksa’s information center was reportedly blocked under an order from the TRC. Other websites that were previously blocked under former President Rajapaksa’s government continue to be accessible. Digital activism remains vibrant in Sri Lanka, with a number of citizen media sites and news sites freely publishing content on political and socioeconomic issues in the country.

Blocking and Filtering

President Sirisena moved quickly to dismantle the censorship regime imposed up until 2015 by his predecessor. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesignhe assured journalists that they would be free to report without fear of harassment and that authoritarian practices like internet censorship would not occur under the new government.64 Previously inaccessible content became accessible across ISPs, including the exile-run news website TamilNet, censored since 2007 for its support of the Tamil rebels.65 As with the previous government, the current government continues to restrict access to many pornography websites.66

There was one apparent exception to an otherwise strong record since January 2015. In September 2015, the Colombo Telegraph reported that Mobitel, a subsidiary of Sri Lanka Telecom,67 had repeatedly blocked the website Mahinda.info, run by supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The website administrators reported it was blocked several times prior to and after the parliamentary election in August, and said that Mobitel had informed them the blocking was implemented in response to a TRC order.68 The nature of that alleged order remains unclear, but the possibility that an opposition candidate was censored in advance of elections was troubling, and highlighted the need for legal reform.

Between 20017 and 2015, dozens of websites were blocked at different times, censorship which lacked a legal framework or judicial oversight.69 Blocks were not properly coordinated or comprehensive, with some targeted websites available at times on one or more ISPs and at other times completely inaccessible. Officials cited ill-defined national security measures to legitimize these measures, though websites were blacklisted for publishing information related to human rights issues, government accountability, corruption, and political violence, including content by Human Rights Watch and Transparency International.70 During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, censors targeted blogs,71 opposition and independent news, including Tamil websites, sites run by Sri Lankans in exile, and citizen journalism platforms.

The system that enables website blocking, which has largely operated outside of the law, remains intact. Whilst officials have the power to direct the TRC to blacklist content, previous blocks have not had any legal basis and it is not clear whether they were the result of official directives or unofficial requests.72 Under the telecommunications act, ISPs must apply to the Ministry of Telecommunications for a license according to specifications laid out by the TRC, who can make recommendations regarding whether or not a license is granted. The ministry can also impose conditions on a license, requiring the provider to address any matter considered “requisite or expedient to achieving” TRC objectives.73 It is not clear if the TRC can impose other financial or legal penalties on uncooperative telecommunications companies since the conditions, if imposed, are not transparent. To date, however, no company is known to have challenged the TRC’s requests or sought judicial oversight.74

There is no independent body in Sri Lanka that content providers can turn to if they are censored. Instead, they must file a fundamental rights application with the Supreme Court to challenge blocking or other restrictions. Under Rajapaksa’s presidency, the lack of trust in the country’s politicized judiciary and fear of retaliatory measures represented significant obstacles for the petitioner.75 In December 2011, one settled out of court, agreeing to several TRC conditions—such as removing links to blocked content—in return for restored access.76

Content Removal

Documented cases of content removal are few and far between. According to Google’s Transparency Report, the previous government made four requests for the removal of content over a five-year period. The most recent request was submitted in December 2014.77 Google reported that were no requests for content removal from the current government from January 2015 to May 2016.

Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation

Despite a history of censorship, there are still diverse, accessible sources of information online in English, Sinhala, and Tamil, including on socioeconomic and political issues. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and international blog-hosting services were accessible and widely-used for the anonymous or pseudonymous critique of governance, development, and human rights abuses during the coverage period of this report. Both the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015 spurred greater activity on social media, particularly as Facebook and Twitter were used to discuss political news, debate key issues and spread awareness about topics pertaining to corruption and governance. Some commentators described the 2015 presidential election as “Sri Lanka’s first cyber-election” given the increased activity on social media platforms.78

The 2015 elections were also noted for how politicians used social media to influence and engage users. The personal pages of President Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa had over 700,000 “likes” after the 2015 parliamentary election. Mahinda Rajapaksa led the way with over 470,000 engaged users (with engagement meaning comments, clicks, shares, post likes, and video plays).79 During the presidential election Twitter was used most effectively by journalists and one politician – Mahinda Rajapaksa.80 However, when it came to the parliamentary election in August 2015, politicians published less content on Twitter than journalists and commentators, according to one analysis.81

Citizen media site Groundviews and its sister site Vikalpa feature opinion, news, investigative reports, photography, art, and short videos generated by citizens, covering content that would otherwise not be covered by the mainstream media.82 In 2014, Groundviews announced the launch of Maatram, a new citizen journalism initiative that publishes content aimed at Tamil readers across Sri Lanka and the diaspora.83 The past two years have seen journalism initiatives utilizing mobile messaging platforms to reach new audiences. As a natural progression of its reporting initiative during the elections in 2014 and 2015,84 Groundviews started enabling mobile updates through WhatsApp in order to publish article updates, audio clips, and pictures.85

Other curated websites, largely recent startups, contribute to the country’s diverse online media landscape. For example, Readme.lk offers news on technology and Roar.lk, a social content start-up, offers “Sri Lankan content” that it describes as “credible, accessible, readable and shareable.”86 Yamu.lk, a popular city guide, produces short videos on popular culture as well as on socio-economic and political issues, which are viewed and shared widely on social media. Yamu’s viewership on Facebook has reportedly doubled every month, from 44,000 views in its first month to 720,000 views in February 2016.87

During Rajapaksa’s presidency, the media ministry issued a directive requesting all “news” websites to register, and a registration fee was ultimately approved at cabinet level in the previous government at LKR 25,000 (US$190) with an annual renewal fee of LKR 10,000 (US$75) and proposed as an amendment to the Press Council Act.88 These costs threatened to inhibit the emergence of new websites and force existing ones out of operation.89 While the amendment was never passed, the previous UPFA government still imposed the registration fee through the Ministry of Mass Media without any legal basis.

Despite its explicit media freedom guarantees, the current government made a fresh call for websites to register. In a notice published in the Daily News, the government announced that all websites had to be registered with the Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media by March 31, 2016; websites failing to do so would be considered “unlawful.”90 Media freedom activists noted that there is still no legal basis for websites to register with the government. Following considerable pushback from the media and activists, the Acting Minister of Parliamentary Reform and Mass Media Karu Paranavithana stated that the registration drive was not intended to control digital media, but to offer official accreditation, giving web journalism the same recognition as mainstream outlets.91 Yet Paranavithana undercut this conciliatory message when he justified the government’s action with reference to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, which stated that registration was required in order to prevent the publication of defamatory material on websites, and that freedom of expression was not an absolute right (see Legal Environment).92

In May 2014, former President Rajapaksa reaffirmed his intent to regulate social media and stated that the government would take the necessary steps to prevent the internet from being used to cause “social and political unrest.”93 Under President Sirisena and the new interim government, no attempts have been made to regulate social media as of May 2016.

During Rajapaksa’s presidency, officials actively encouraged self-censorship “on matters that would damage the integrity of the island,” and many mainstream news websites complied, increasing the importance of citizen journalism and exile-run sites in the media landscape.94 Online platforms of the main state-run newspaper and broadcasting networks supported former President Rajapaksa when he was in power and the UPFA government.95 These and official government websites have waged smear campaigns against UPFA critics in the past.96 Under President Sirisena, however, some traditional and new media outlets have become vocal critics of both sides of the political divide, freely expressing opinions and publishing reportage that would have never been tolerated under Rajapaksa’s administration. Overall, the practice of self-censorship by journalists and media institutions appears to be diminishing in response to the government’s commitment to media freedom, although the media still stay clear of reporting on certain topics, such as controversial issues concerning the military, for fear of reprisals.

While media ethics and responsible reportage are critical issues that need to be addressed, some politicians are quick to criticize media institutions, particularly when inconvenient truths are revealed. For example, in reaction to reports published about the government and the economy, the Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake requested media institutions and journalists to avoid abusing the “media freedom that prevails under the new government.”97 A history of government intervention in media freedom meant such statements were cause for concern, even though some of the criticism had foundation. For example, in February 2016, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe threatened to take action against electronic media in response to an offensive description of a performer in a televised opera, especially since licenses to broadcast are issued by the government.98 Separately, in May 2016, he stated that the greatest threat to media freedom comes from within the media itself. The statement was issued in the context of media reports about the Leader of the Opposition and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, R. Sampanthan, allegedly entering an army camp by force.99 The TNA said Sampathan only visited private land the camp was located on, which was occupied by the army during the war.100 The media was criticized for erroneous reporting, including online.

Many pages on Facebook publish offensive material targeting Muslims and other groups.101 In early 2013, hate speech against the Muslim community spread online when a Sinhala Buddhist extremist group gained a considerable following on social media.102 The group’s violent rhetoric led to attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, as well as isolated incidents of assault.103 No legal action was taken against the group’s members, and prominent public officials—including the President Rajapaksa’s brother, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa—openly supported them.104 Some of the relevant social media pages have since been removed, and the intensity of online hate speech declined during the coverage period of this report, though without stopping altogether.

Digital Activism

The web has provided wide scope for robust digital activism and engagement on political issues in Sri Lanka. In the lead up to the January 2015 presidential election, #IVotedSL was launched on Facebook and Twitter – a campaign that called on people to exercise their franchise on election day.105 Twitter and Facebook profile photos as well as digital posters were developed and shared by thousands of users, publicizing the campaign and encouraging other users to take the pledge. This campaign continued into the August 2015 parliamentary election with hundreds of people uploading #iwillvote photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For the first time, Facebook allowed all of its users based in Sri Lanka to update their statuses around the August 2015 parliamentary election to indicate whether they were going to vote or had voted on election day.106

Following the conclusion of the Presidential election, another independent campaign was initiated by citizens on Facebook and Twitter—#icanChangeSL and #wecanChangeSL—to sustain a meaningful dialogue about shaping a new country.107 Other interesting initiatives were launched during the coverage period of this report. In March 2016, Groundviewslaunched an initiative to highlight street-based sexual harassment around the country by mapping it on Google Maps and publishing the story behind each incident.108 Similarly, the Center for Policy Alternatives, a leading public policy institute, launched “Right to the City,” an online initiative seeking to broaden the discussion on development, housing, and displacement in Sri Lanka, and anchored to the institute’s research and advocacy work on development and rights.109

In May 2016, massive floods and landslides caused an estimated $2 billion worth of damage and claimed 200 lives.110 The Disaster Management Center (DMC), the main institution responsible for managing disasters, has no active social media presence and still disseminates updates via fax and press releases. Despite having the technology to send SMS alerts to all mobile subscribers in the country, the DMC has hardly used it.111 Observers criticized the DMC for missing the opportunity to use digital media to advance its mission, and for failing in its duty to protect the public.112

Citizens and organizations, by contrast, used digital tools to organize flood relief efforts, solicit donations, and disseminate information about rescue operations. For example, Sri Lanka Red Cross used its social media accounts to disseminate information regarding floods and landslides; taxi service apps like PickMe introduced a flood relief button for donations and also an SOS button that allowed existing customers trapped in flood-affected areas to mark their location for rescue;113 and Dialog, one of the largest mobile service providers, allowed its customers to donate their loyalty points to flood relief efforts, which the company pledged to double with its own financial contribution. Dialog reported that over LKR 50 million (US$330,000) was donated for flood relief as a result of this initiative.114

Violations of User Rights:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Less Free)

There were no significant reports of intimidation, prosecution or assault during the coverage period of this report. Physical attacks and threats against journalists, including many linked to government actors, gradually decreased in the aftermath of the civil war. Whilst the failure to investigate past incidents cast a long shadow during President Rajapaksa’s rule, the new government under President Sirisena has promised to initiate investigations into the murder and disappearance of journalists. The progress of these investigations has been described as “agonizing.”

Legal Environment

While the right to freedom of speech, expression, and publishing is guaranteed under Article 14(1)(a) of Sri Lanka’s constitution, it is subject to numerous restrictions for the protection of national security, public order, racial and religious harmony, and morality. There is no constitutional provision recognizing internet access as a fundamental right or guaranteeing freedom of expression online. A culture of impunity, circumvention of the judicial process through arbitrary action, and a lack of adequate protection for individuals and their privacy, compound the poor enforcement of freedom of expression guarantees.

The Supreme Court has called freedom of expression from “diverse and antagonistic sources” indispensable to democracy.115 In May 2012, however, it rejected a fundamental rights petition brought by members of the local Free Media Movement questioning the media ministry’s right to block websites for failure to register.116 After a complaint was made to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka about the blocking of two websites in May 2014, the commission said it would investigate, but that freedom of expression was subject to constitutional limits.117

Several laws with overly broad scope lack detailed definitions and can be abused to prosecute or restrict legitimate forms of online expression. Computer crimes and intellectual property rights laws allow information contained within computers to be admissible in civil and criminal proceedings. Publishing official secrets, information about parliament that may undermine its work, or “malicious” content that incites violence or disharmony could result in criminal charges.118

The Press Council Act No.5 of 1973 had lain dormant under previous administrations until the Rajapaksa regime reactivated it after the end of the war.119 The act prohibits the publication of profanity, obscenity, “false” information about the government or fiscal policy, and official secrets. It also allows the president-appointed council to impose punitive measures on the violators of its provisions, including possible prosecution. Six months after his victory at the presidential election, President Sirisena used his executive powers to reactivate the Press Council and appoint three members to it.120 The move was criticized by publishers, media activists, editors and journalists, who argued that it contradicted President Sirisena’s election promise to protect media freedom.121 Since 2009, local and international media rights organizations have constantly opposed the Press Council Act.122

In April 2015, President Sirisena proposed legislation in order to ban hate speech and material that could “exacerbate religious and ethnic tensions.”123 The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has encouraged the government to address hate speech and religious violence.124 The Minister of Justice tabled two new bills in parliament, which added a new offence regarding hate speech into the Sri Lankan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. However, an existing law, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007, already prohibits anyone from advocating national, racial, and religious hatred that might be an incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.125 In addition, the new offence outlined in the bills replicates Section 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1979,126 which was used by Rajapaksa’s government to prosecute critics like J.S. Tissainayagam, who was detained for over a year and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment hard labor in 2009 on charges of causing racial hatred and raising money for terrorism.127 Moreover, the overbroad provisions of the legislation left it open to manipulation to restrict legitimate forms of expression. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Human Rights Commission and civil society groups opposed the proposed laws.128 Petitions were also filed with the Supreme Court in order to challenge the laws.129 After considerable opposition, the government withdrew the bills.130 Legal scholars argue that enforcing the ICCPR Act, which abides by international standards, is adequate enough for “advancing justice and preventing future religious violence.”131

The current government also announced that it would be drafting new laws to respond to the growing rate of cybercrime. In the first seven months of 2015, there were over 2,000 complaints regarding fake social media profiles. The Computer Crimes Division of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) has investigated over 100 internet-related crimes, which includes cases of defamation, obscene content, and email hacking.132

After months of political bargaining, Parliament passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in April 2015. The amendment strengthened checks and balances on the executive presidency, restored term limits to the presidency, revived the Constitutional Council, and empowered independent commissions.133 In January 2016, the Public Representations Committee (PRC), appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers to receive public representations on constitutional reform, began its public sittings around the country and published a final report in May 2016.134 The Prime Minister also presented a resolution to convert Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly for the purpose of enacting a new Constitution.135 In April 2016, Parliament convened for the first time as the Constitutional Assembly in order to discuss the first steps required to draft a new Constitution.136

Following the passage of a resolution titled “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka”, which it co-sponsored at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka initiated a transitional justice process with the appointment of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF) in January 2016. It will present a report in October 2016.137

Right to Information (RTI) is another legislative development that has been undertaken by the Government during the coverage period of this report. The first RTI bill was proposed in 2003, but was ultimately rejected by parliament. As part of President Sirisena’s 100-day program, the new government promised to introduce RTI legislation in order to entrench good governance and transparency. Whilst the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution recognizes RTI as a fundamental right, Parliament had yet to pass the legislation for it.138 In December 2015, the cabinet approved the “Right of Access to Information” bill—following which, the government announced that the bill would be gazetted, circulated amongst the provincial councils and tabled in parliament during the first quarter of 2016.139 The bill is expected to strengthen accountability, improve governance and increase transparency within public institutions. In March 2016, the government finally tabled the RTI bill in parliament.140

Civil society activists flagged serious concerns about the drafts,141 notably for lack of consideration for information surrounding victims of enforced disappearances.142 In April 2016, Transparency International Sri Lanka said it supported the current version of the bill, while identifying six areas that could be further strengthened.143

However, also in April 2016, multiple fundamental rights petitions were filed with the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of several clauses in the bill.144 Civil society activists also filed fundamental rights petitions in defense of the bill. After hearing all of the petitions,145 the Supreme Court determined that five sections of the bill were inconsistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.146 The Government stated that it would consider the Court’s determination before moving ahead. Soon after, the Government announced that it would be accepting all amendments to the RTI bill stipulated by the Supreme Court since they further strengthened the bill.147 In May 2016, the amended RTI bill had not yet been taken up for further debate in Parliament.

Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities

No detentions for online activity were reported during the coverage period of this report. Detentions for legitimate online activity were documented during Rajapaksa’s presidency. In one egregious 2012 example, CID officials raided the offices of the Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News websites in June on grounds of “propagating false and unethical news on Sri Lanka.”148 The journalists were released on bail the day after their arrest, though investigators later said their computers contained further grounds for prosecution, including content that violated the Obscene Publications Act—although the alleged obscenity was unpublished149—failure to register the website, ridiculing the president, and evidence of an attempted coup.150 While the case was finally set aside due to the CID failing to conclude investigations, the journalists filed a fundamental rights petition with the Supreme Court citing illegal arrest, violation of their right to free expression, and their profession.151 Supreme Court hearings on the petition were ongoing in 2015.152

Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity

In spite of the new government’s commitment to freedom of expression, transparency and right to information, privacy advocates are still cautious about how existing surveillance technology could be utilized and intensified in the future. Civil society groups also fear that website registration could be used to hold registered site owners responsible for content posted by users, or to prevent government critics writing anonymously.153

Sri Lanka lacks substantive laws for the protection of individual privacy and data. Extrajudicial surveillance of personal communications is prohibited under the Telecommunications Act No.27 of 1996. However, a telecommunications officer can intercept communications under the direction of a minister, a court, or in connection with the investigation of a criminal offence. There is no provision under the legislation that requires officials to notify users who are targets of surveillance, and under the previous government, many journalists and civil society activists believed their phone and internet communications were monitored, particularly in light of official statements lauding state surveillance.154 Security surveillance in the north and east still continues.155

In 2013, Dialog CEO Dr. Hans Wijesuriya denied the existence of a comprehensive surveillance apparatus in Sri Lanka but agreed that telecommunications companies “have to be compliant with requests from the government.”156 Digital activists in Sri Lanka believe Chinese telecoms ZTE and Huawei, who collaborated with Rajapaksa’s government in the development and maintenance of Sri Lanka’s ICT infrastructure, may have inserted backdoor espionage and surveillance capabilities.157

During the coverage period of this report, journalists analyzed leaked documents which revealed that the Milan-based firm Hacking Team was approached by several state security agencies on a number of occasions to acquire the company’s digital surveillance technologies.158 The leaks revealed that in March 2014 the Ministry of Defense was planning on developing an electronic surveillance and tracking system with the help of a local university.159 While no purchases of the company’s equipment were confirmed in the published documents, they included a 2013 email exchange between a Hacking Team employee and individual claiming to represent Sri Lankan intelligence agencies describing confidential acquisitions of “interception technologies” he had brokered in the past.160

Under the Rajapaksa regime, a Ministry of Defense program to register mobile phone users for the purpose of “curbing negative incidents” was introduced in 2008 and revisited in 2010 after service providers failed to ensure that subscribers registered.161 Real-name subscriptions are already normal procedure, but the call for registration in 2010 required further information, including photo identification and up-to-date residential details. Unregistered users risked disconnection if they failed to comply, though no cases were reported.

Intimidation and Violence

There were no targeted attacks on online journalists or internet users during the coverage period of this report.

Online reporters, like their counterparts in traditional media, were attacked by forces on both sides during Sri Lanka’s civil conflict. Unsolved cases include the 2005 murder of TamilNet co-founder Dharmeratnam Sivaram, who was found dead in a high-security area outside parliament.162

The trend of violence against traditional journalists and a culture of impunity as well as intimidation continued during Rajapaksa’s presidency despite sustained international pressure. International news reports and rights groups say soldiers acting on the orders of high ranking officials in the previous government were responsible for the notorious “white van” abductions of critics and activists163—named after the vehicle often used to carry them out—a claim the previous administration denies.164

In May 2015, President Sirisena reiterated his intention to re-open investigations into all past murders and disappearances of journalists.165 There are some signs of progress. In February 2016, five intelligence personnel were arrested in the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda.166 The Lanka-E-News journalist and cartoonist has been missing since January 24, 2010, after the website backed the political opposition in elections;167 in the past, officials said he sought asylum overseas.168 The suspects are alleged to have connections with the military and intelligence services, and numerous others have been detained during the course of the investigations. In May 2016, the case was ongoing. Other investigations have yet to move forward.169

Technical Attacks

Cybercrime is a growing problem in Sri Lanka, with illegal breaches of social media and email accounts becoming more common.170 Cyberattacks have also targeted critics of Rajapaksa’s regime in the past, though no incidents were reported during the coverage period.

The previous government recognized the need to strengthen its defensive capability, yet critics fear technology bought for this purpose could be used to restrict legitimate expression.171 Following the implementation of the Computer Crimes Act in 2007, the government at the time established the Computer Emergency Readiness Team and Coordination Center (CERT|CC) in order to protect Sri Lanka’s digital data. In July 2014, CERT|CC developed a security arm to protect digital banking infrastructure.172 The CID has also established a Hi-Tech Crime Investigation Unit (HCIU) in order to fight cyber crime around the country and not just in the commercial capital, Colombo. The HCIU will be investigating the sexual harassment of women on social media, threats to minors, and cases of financial fraud online.173

Notes: 

1 “Sri Lanka’s PM defeats ex-president in elections”, Al Jazeera, August 19, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/08/sri-lanka-elections-150818133605788.html

2 “UNP and SLFP reach a two-year agreement”, NewsFirst, August 21, 2015, http://newsfirst.lk/english/2015/08/unp-and-slfp-reach-a-two-year-agreement/107750

3 Siobhan Hagan, “Rights advocates welcome promised changes in Sri Lanka”, International Press Institute, January 13, 2015, http://www.freemedia.at/newssview/article/press-freedom-advocates-welcome-promised-changes-in-sri-lanka.html

4 “TamilNet Blocked in Sri Lanka”, BBC Sinhala, June 20, 2007, http://bbc.in/1YfSL5b.

5 International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2015,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.

6 International Telecommunication Union citing Telecommunications Regulatory Commission data, “Mobile-cellular subscriptions, 2000-2015,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka reported 116 percent. See, Economic and Social Statistics of Sri Lanka 2015, http://www.cbsl.gov.lk/pics_n_docs/10_pub/_docs/efr/annual_report/AR2015/English/7_Chapter_03.pdf, 79.

7 The bank reported a slightly lower overall penetration rate, at 19.5 percent. Economic and Social Statistics of Sri Lanka 2015, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, http://www.cbsl.gov.lk/pics_n_docs/10_pub/_docs/efr/annual_report/AR2015/English/7_Chapter_03.pdf, 79.

8 The Official Government News Portal of Sri Lanka, “Free Wi-Fi from today at 26 public locations in Sri Lanka,” news release, March 30, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KjuEJj.

9 “ICTA plans ambitious digital infrastructure, Google Loon by March”, LBO, November 6, 2015, http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/icta-plans-ambitious-digital-infrastructure-google-loon-by-march/

10 Azhar Razak, “Summary of 2016 Budget proposals”, November 20, 2015, The Nation, http://nation.lk/online/2015/11/20/summary-of-2016-budget-proposals.html

11 Sri Lanka Telecom’s cheapest broadband package offers 3.5GB at about $3 a month with a monthly rental fee of $1 and additional $3 startup fee. SLT also offers a concessionary package for students that costs about $2.50 with the same start-up fee and monthly rental fee as other packages. SLT, Broadband packages, https://www.slt.lk/en/personal/internet?item_id=104, accessed May 31, 2016

12 Dialog’s cheapest broadband package offers 5GB at about $4 a month and an additional one-time connection fee of $26. Dialog, 4G Home Broadband, http://www.dialog.lk/browse/plansFixedBroadband.jsp?categoryId=onlinecat3800057&utm_source=dialoglk&utm_medium=homeIcons&utm_content=HomeBB&utm_campaign=dialoglk-Home, accessed May 31s 2016

13 Bandula Sirmanna, “Smart phones catch the eye of Sri Lankan Youth”, The Sunday Times, October 20, 2013, http://bit.ly/1QIHp4G.

14 “Via Google Loon, Sri Lanka to be world’s first with 4G-LTE coverage,” March 8, 2016, Opportunity Sri Lanka, http://opportunitysrilanka.com/via-google-loon-sl-to-be-worlds-first-with-4g-lte-coverage/

15 “Sri Lanka’s mobile phone shipments reached 1mn units in 3Q: Smart phone shipments up 100 pct: Report”, LBO, December 25, 2014

16 “Sri Lanka, one of the fastest growing markets in South Asia”, News.lk, October 1st, 2015, http://www.news.lk/news/sri-lanka/item/10045-sri-lanka-one-of-the-fastest-growing-markets-in-south-asia.

17 Mobile Broadband – Postpaid, http://www.dialog.lk/mobile-knktd-data-packages/, accessed May 31, 2016

18 Mobitel, Broadband, http://www.mobitel.lk/internet-chooti, accessed May 31st, 2016

19 Household Income and Expenditure Survey – 2012/13, Department of Census and Statistics, June 2013, http://www.statistics.gov.lk/hies/hies201213buletineng.pdf

20 “Project Loon: Google balloon that beams down internet reaches Sri Lanka”, The Guardian, February 16, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/16/project-loon-google-balloon-that-beams-down-internet-reaches-sri-lanka

21 Uditha Jayasinghe, “Google’s ‘Project Loon’ Balloon Internet Experiment Floats into Sri Lanka”, February 16, 2016, http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2016/02/16/googles-project-loon-balloon-internet-experiment-floats-into-in-sri-lanka/

22 “Sri Lanka looks to LTE, Project Loon to double internet penetration”, Mobile World Live, April 11, 2016, http://www.mobileworldlive.com/asia/asia-news/sri-lanka-looks-to-lte-project-loon-to-double-internet-penetration/

23 Gopiharan Perinpam, “Google Loon is Here – What Does This Mean For Sri Lanka”, Roar.lk, May 5, 2016, http://tech.roar.lk/insights/google-loon-is-here-%E2%80%92-what-does-this-mean-for-sri-lanka/

24 Rohan Samarajiva, “Morning after: Thinking through Sri Lanka President’s free Wi-Fi promise,” LirneAsia, February 28, 2015, http://bit.ly/1iRO7Kr; Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, “Why Yahapalanaya’s Train Wi-Fi might not be as cool as you think,” Readme, February 28, 2015, http://readme.lk/free-wifi-train-stations/.

25 “WLT Wi-Fi hotspots for the first time in Sri Lanka”, The Sunday Times, May 25, 2014, http://bit.ly/1KTB73m.

26 “Dialog launches customer trial in Colombo with 100 Mbps Home Broadband”, Dailymirror.lk, July 15th, 2015, http://www.dailymirror.lk/79677/dialog-launches-customer-trial-in-colombo-with-100-mbps-home-broadband

27 “Wi-Fi Hotspots in Sri Lanka”, Dialog, http://www.dialog.lk/personal/broadband/wi-fi/; “Dialog’s Giving Everyone Free Wi-Fi. For 30 Days,” Readme, September 22, 2014, http://readme.lk/dialogs-giving-free-wi-fi-30-days/.

29 UNICEF, “Sri Lanka Statistics,” accessed July 2013, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sri_lanka_statistics.html.

30 Department of Census and Statistics, “Computer Literacy Survey – 2009,” http://www.statistics.gov.lk/CLS/BuletinComputerLiteracy_2009.pdf.

31 Computer Literacy Statistics – 2015, Department of Census and Statistics, January – June 2015, http://www.statistics.gov.lk/samplesurvey/ComputerLiteracy-2015Q1-Q2-final%20.pdf

32 Computer Literacy Statistics – 2015, Department of Census and Statistics, January – June 2015, http://www.statistics.gov.lk/samplesurvey/ComputerLiteracy-2015Q1-Q2-final%20.pdf

33 Nenasala, “Establishment of Nenasalas,” accessed July 2013, http://bit.ly/1W4XODp.

34 “ICTA Responds to Business Times report on e-government project,” The Sunday Times, January 6, 2013, http://bit.ly/1bmHPwO.

35 Computer Literacy Statistics – 2015, Department of Census and Statistics, January – June 2015, http://www.statistics.gov.lk/samplesurvey/ComputerLiteracy-2015Q1-Q2-final%20.pdf

36 M.A. Sumanthiran, “Situation in North-Eastern Sri Lanka: A series of serious concerns,” dbsjeyaraj (blog), October 23, 2011, http://bit.ly/1Ozd3Cs.

37 “Sri Lanka releases 1000 acres of land from high security zones in Jaffna,” ColomboPage, April 11, 2015, http://www.colombopage.com/archive_15A/Apr11_1428691768CH.php

38 “Navy hands over 177 acres of land in Sampur to legitimate owners,” DailyFT, March 28, 2016, http://www.ft.lk/article/533374/Navy-hands-over-177-acres-of-land-in-Sampur-to-legitimate-owners

39 “Sri Lanka accused of waging ‘silent war’ as Tamil land is appropriated by army,” The Guardian, May 28 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/may/28/sri-lanka-army-land-grabs-tamil-displacement-report-oakland-institute

40 Rohan Samarajiva, “Sri Lanka census data show heavy household Internet use in post-conflict minority districts,” LirneAsia, December 30, 2013, http://bit.ly/1W4YqJh.

41 Computer Literacy Statistics – 2015, Department of Census and Statistics, January – June 2015, http://www.statistics.gov.lk/samplesurvey/ComputerLiteracy-2015Q1-Q2-final%20.pdf

42 Sri Lanka Telecom PLC, Update Report, Fitch Ratings, January 21, 2013, http://bit.ly/2fn0vlk.

43 Helani Galpaya, Broadband in Sri Lanka: Glass Half Full or Half Empty? (Washington, D.C.: infuse/The World Bank, 2011), http://bit.ly/1izou0Y.

44 “Dialog Connects Sri Lanka to Ultra High Speed 100G-Plus Submarine Cable”, Dialog, May 30, 2016, https://www.dialog.lk/dialog-connects-sri-lanka-to-ultra-high-speed-100g-plus-submarine-cable

45 “SLT introduces SEA-ME-WE 5 submarine cable system and first tier 4 ready data station”, The Island, February 1, 2016, http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=139608

46 Raj Moorthy, “Facebook and Google to enter Sri Lanka in June this year”, The Sunday Times, February 7, 2016, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160207/business-times/facebook-and-google-to-enter-sri-lanka-in-june-this-year-181941.html

47 “Cutting off Telecoms in Sri Lanka Redux…,” Groundviews, January 30, 2007, http://bit.ly/1OzcQ29.

48 “Lanka’s ICT literacy, penetration below global averages, remains a focus in macro development agenda – Sri Lanka Telecom Group CEO Greg Young,” The Island, November 4, 2012, http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=65313; Sri Lanka: Telecommunication Sector,” JKSB Research, December 2008, http://www.jksb.keells.lk/newjksb/research%5CTelecom%20Sector%20-%20December%202008.pdf.

50 Dialog Axiata PLC, https://www.dialog.lk/fact-sheet, accessed May 31, 2016

51 “Mobitel finalizes terms of Hutch takeover, report says,” TeleGeography, February 11, 2014, http://bit.ly/1izpDpo.

52 The customer base figures for Etisalat, Airtel and Hutchison received from sources in each company (according to customer churn rates for June/July 2015).

53 “Dialog launches first mobile 4G-LTE service in Colombo,” Daily FT, April 2, 2013, http://bit.ly/1gukvRx; Duruthu Edirimuni Chandrasekera, “Etisalat to head start on 4G,” The Sunday Times, February 10, 2013, http://bit.ly/1KswESY; “Lanka Bell Launches 4G Connectivity”, Explore Sri Lanka, April 2014, http://exploresrilanka.lk/2014/04/lanka-bell-launches-4g-connectivity/.

54 Sri Lanka Telecommunications (Amendment) Act, No.27 of 1996, http://www.trc.gov.lk/images/pdf/legislation/Act%2027%20of%201996.pdf, Section 3 (1) (a)

55 “Colombo Telegraph blockade: TRC clueless,” Daily FT, August 27, 2013, http://www.ft.lk/2013/08/27/colombo-telegraph-blockade-trc-clueless/; Sarath Kumara, “Sri Lankan government prepares new Internet restrictions,” World Socialist Web Site, February 15, 2010, http://bit.ly/1QkpyA3.

56 “Sri Lanka; Lalith Weeratunga summoned to Presidential Commission of Inquiry,” September 16, 2015, http://www.colombopage.com/archive_15B/Sep16_1442379869CH.php

57 “Indictments filed against 16 including Basil”, Daily News, May 20th, 2016, http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016/05/20/law-order/82286

58 “Statement on Anusha Palpita’s Appointment”, Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 27, 2016, http://www.cpalanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/statement_on_anusha_palpita_s_appointment.pdf

59 “Anusha Palpita removed from Home Ministry post”, adaderana.lk, May 31, 2016, http://adaderana.lk/news/35493/anusha-palpita-removed-from-home-ministry-post

60 Telecommunications and Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, “Chairman and the Director-General Assume Duties,” http://bit.ly/1Qkqq7P.

61 “M.M. Zuhair appointed Director General of TRC”, News.lk, January 29, 2015, http://www.news.lk/news/politics/item/5952-m-m-zuhair-appointed-director-general-of-trc

62 Niranjala Ariyawansha, “DG and Board of TRC fired by President”, October 18, 2015, https://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-106844-news-detail-dg-and-board-of-trc-fired-by-president.html

63 “Mr. Sunil S. Sirisena is the new Director General of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka”, TRC, http://www.trc.gov.lk/mr-sunil-s-sirisena-is-the-new-director-general-of-telecommunications-regulatory-commission-of-sri-lanka.html

64 Jason Burke and Amantha Perera, “Sri Lanka’s new president promises ‘no more abductions, no more censorship’,” The Guardian, January 10th, 2015, http://gu.com/p/44n3t/stw.

65 Local internet users reported it was patchily accessible through some fixed-line and mobile broadband networks during that time. See, Sanjana Hattotuwa, “Tamilnet.com Accessible Once More in Sri Lanka via SLT ADSL”.

66 Indika Sri Aravinda, “Police seek mobile porn ban,” Daily Mirror, May 12, 2010, http://bit.ly/1YgcC4b.

67 Subsidiaries, SLT.lk, https://www.slt.lk/en/about-us/profile/subsidaries, accessed May 2016

68 “Mahinda’s Webiste Unblocked; Mobitel Says TRC Ordered Blockade”, Colombo Telegraph, September 14, 2015, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/mahindas-website-unblocked-mobitel-says-trc-ordered-blockade/

69 Centre for Policy Alternatives, “Chapter 4: Restriction of Content on the Internet” in Freedom of Expression on the Internet, (November 2011), http://bit.ly/1F4D1Mf.

70 Reporters Without Borders, Internet Enemies, March 12, 2009, http://bit.ly/tus9bB.

71 Sanjana Hattotuwa, “More websites including ghs.google.com blocked in Sri Lanka?”, ICT4Peace, July 29, 2009, https://ict4peace.wordpress.com/2009/07/29/more-websites-including-ghs-google-com-blocked-in-sri-lanka/

72 Insights – Verité Research, “Is blocking websites making telecom share prices vulnerable?,” Daily Mirror Business, July 31, 2014, http://www.dailymirror.lk/50418/is-blocking-websites-making-telecom-share-prices-vulnerable

73 Centre for Policy Alternatives, Freedom of Expression on the Internet, 30.

74 ‘Dialog CEO Hans Wijesuriya: “No surveillance program in Sri Lanka, but telecoms have to comply”,’ The Republic Square, September 28, 2013, http://bit.ly/1QkqZOZ.

75 International Crisis Group, “Sri Lanka’s Judiciary: Politicised Courts, Compromised Rights,” Asia Report No.172, June 30, 2009, http://bit.ly/1KsA8oz.

76 S.S. Selvanayagam, “Website previously blocked now permitted to operate by SC,” DailyFT, December 16, 2011, http://bit.ly/1NFYH3Q.

77 Google, “Sri Lanka,” Google Transparency Report, accessed April 13, 2016, https://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/LK/?hl=en

78 Nalaka Gunawardene, “Social media and General Elections 2015”, Daily Mirror, September 2, 2015, http://www.dailymirror.lk/85811/social-media-and-general-elecations-2015

79 “Mapping election influence on social media: Part Two – Facebook”, Icaruswept (blog), August 19, 2015, http://icaruswept.com/2015/08/19/mapping-election-influence-on-social-media-part-two-facebook/

80 Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, “Who’s Been Running the #PresPollSL?”, Readme.lk, January 14th, 2015, http://readme.lk/running-prespollsl/

81 “Mapping election influence on social media: Part one – Twitter”, Icaruswept (blog), August 17, 2015, http://icaruswept.com/2015/08/17/the-general-election-on-social-media-part-one-twitter/

82 “#UPRLKA: Complete Tweet Archive and Related Visualisation Around Sri Lanka’s UPR Review,” Groundviews, November 2, 2012, http://bit.ly/1gupD89.

83 “Announcing the launch of Maatram: Citizen journalism in Tamil,” Groundviews, January 20, 2014, http://bit.ly/1W52ngY.

84 Sanjana Hattotuwa, “Social media and elections: Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Election, August 2015, ICT for Peacebuilding, August 31st, 2015, https://ict4peace.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/social-media-and-elections-sri-lankas-parliamentary-election-august-2015/

85 “Groundviews: Now on Whatsapp”, Groundviews, February 23rd, 2016, http://groundviews.org/2016/02/23/groundviews-now-on-whatsapp/

87 “YAMU TV reports exponential growth in web video”, YAMU, April 18, 2016, https://www.yamu.lk/yamu-tvs-press-release/

88 Office of the Cabinet of Ministers – Sri Lanka, “Registration of News Casting Websites – Amendment to the Sri Lanka Press Council Act No 05 of 1973,” press brief, August 8, 2012, http://bit.ly/1W53wFf.

89 “Rs.100,000 to be Charged from News Websites,” Daily Mirror, July 12, 2012, http://bit.ly/1KoO9zk.

90 “Sri Lanka’s new regime revives Rajapaksa’s censorship of websites,” Economy Next, March 2nd, 2016, http://www.economynext.com/Sri_Lanka_s_new_regime_revives_Rajapaksa_s_censorship_of_websites-3-4392-10.html

91 Disna Mudalige, “Not intended to control but to give recognition for web journalists,” Daily News, March 3rd, 2016, http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016/03/03/local/not-intended-control-give-recognition-web-journalists

93 P.K. Balachandran, “Social Media To Come Under Watch in Sri Lanka,” The New Indian Express, May 23, 2014, http://bit.ly/1KsDtE1.

94 Dinidu de Alwis, “Media should exercise self-censorship-Lakshma Yapa,” Ceylon Today, March 23, 2012, http://bit.ly/1F4G9HU.

95 Milinda Rajasekera, “Namal’s disclosure of family embarrassment,” The Island, December 21, 2011, http://bit.ly/1FPJgy8.

96 World Organization Against Torture, “Sri Lanka: Smear campaign against Ms. Sunila Abeysekara, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya,” March 27, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LAs55A; Committee to Protect Journalists, “In Sri Lanka, censorship and a smear campaign,” July 14, 2009, http://cpj.org/2009/07/in-sri-lanka-censorship-and-a-smear-campaign.php.

97 “Don’t abuse the prevailing media freedom – Ravi,” Daily Mirror, May 26, 2015, http://bit.ly/1FPJB3K.

98 “Ranil condemns Derana TV for calling a woman a ‘bitch’; describing the way she sang Danno Budunge”, The Island, February 13th, 2016, http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=140349

99 “Some media groups pose threat to media freedom: Ranil”, The Sunday Times, May 1, 2016, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160501/news/some-media-groups-pose-threat-to-media-freedom-ranil-191723.html

100 “TNA Says Sampanthan Did Not Forcefully Enter ‘Army Camp’, Colombo Telegraph, April 27, 2016, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/tna-says-sampanthan-did-not-forcefully-enter-army-camp/

101 Shilpa Samaratunge and Sanjana Hattotuwa, “Liking Violence: A study of hate speech on Facebook in Sri Lanka,” Centre for Policy Alternatives, September 2014, 67-202, http://www.cpalanka.org/liking-violence-a-study-of-hate-speech-on-facebook-in-sri-lanka/.

102 Sanjana Hattotuwa, “Anti-Muslim hate online in post-war Sri Lanka, ”Sanjana Hattotuwa (blog), February 1, 2013, http://bit.ly/1F4GA53.

103 Charles Haviland, “The hardline Buddhists targeting Sri Lanka’s Muslims,” BBC, March 25, 2013, http://bbc.in/1UYKiEe.

104 D.B.S. Jeyaraj, “Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Openly Supportive of “Ethno Religious Fascist” Organization Bodhu Bala Sena,” dbsjeyara (blog), March 10, 2013, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/17939.

105 “#IVotedSL | Exercise your vote on the 8th!,” Groundviews, January 2, 2015, http://groundviews.org/2015/01/02/ivotedsl-exercise-your-vote-on-the-8th/.

106 Nalaka Gunawardene, “Social Media and General Elections 2015,” Dailymirror.lk, September 2, 2015, http://www.dailymirror.lk/85811/social-media-and-general-elecations-2015

107 “icanChangeSL & #wecanChangeSL: Shaping a new Sri Lanka,” Groundviews, February 4, 2015, http://bit.ly/1zerhBo.

108 Raisa Wickrematunge, “Mapping Street Harassment This Women’s Day,” March 8, 2016, http://groundviews.org/2016/03/08/mapping-street-harassment-this-womens-day/

109 Center for Policy Alternatives, “Right to the City”, https://www.facebook.com/righttothecitysl/

110 Amantha Perera, “After devastating floods and landslides, Sri Lanka plans new building code”, IRIN, May 26, 2016, https://www.irinnews.org/news/2016/05/26/after-devastating-floods-and-landslides-sri-lanka-plans-new-building-code.

111 Amantha Perera, “With Social Media, we could have saved more lives”, Reuters, May 25, 2016, http://in.reuters.com/article/sri-lanka-landslide-socialmedia-idINKCN0YG13C

112 “Arming against disasters”, Daily News, June 10, 2016, http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016/06/10/features/84270

113 “PickMe’s SOS feature breaks new ground”, The Island, May 24, 2016, http://island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=145788

114 Dialog, Flood Relief, http://sm.dialog.lk/relief/

115 Centre for Policy Alternatives, Freedom of Expression on the Internet in Sri Lanka, (August, 2010), 54, http://bit.ly/1gutuCa.

116 Bob Dietz, “Sri Lanka Supreme Court slams door on websites,” Committee to Protect Journalists (Blog), May 17, 2012, http://cpj.org/x/4bb2.

117 Waruni Karunarathne, “HRC To Study Complaint on Websites”, The Sunday Leader, May 25, 2014, http://bit.ly/1W55qWs.

118 Respective legislation: Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955; Parliament (Powers and Privileges) (Amendment) 1997; Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979.

119 “Press Council Reactivated”, The Sunday Times, June 14th, 2009, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/090614/News/sundaytimesnews_10.html

120 “Media groups slam Sirisena for bringing back Press Council”, The Sunday Times, July 5, 2015, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150705/news/media-groups-slam-sirisena-for-bringing-back-press-council-155671.html

121 “Media Release on Press Council Act”. Sri Lanka Press Institute, January 21st, 2016, http://www.slpi.lk/media-release-on-press-council-act/

122 “IFJ, Sri Lankan media rights organizations object to reactivation of Press Council”, IFJ, July 6, 2015, http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/browse/3/backpid/33/article/ifj-sri-lankan-media-rights-organizations-object-reactivation-of-press-council/

123 Sanjaya Jayasekera, “Sri Lankan government to pass laws banning “hate speech”,” World Socialist Web Site, April 20, 2015, http://bit.ly/1YglQxt.

124 “Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein via videolink to the Human Rights Council”, OHCHR, September 15th, 2015, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16539&LangID=E

125 Section 3, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act No. 56 of 2007, November 16, 2007, http://www.documents.gov.lk/Acts/2007/International%20Covenant%20on%20Civil%20&%20Political%20Rights%20%28Iccpr%29%20-%20Act%20No.%2056/English.pdf

126 Section 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 states “(h) by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups” shall be guilty of an offence under the act.

127 “Sri Lankan president pardons convicted Tamil editor”, BBC News, May 3rd, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8657805.stm

128 “TNA wants new ‘hate speech’ legislation withdrawn”, Daily News, December 16, 2015, http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2015/12/16/political/tna-wants-new-hate-speech-legislation-withdrawn

129 “Two petitions filed in SC against Govt. amendments to Penal Code on hate speech”, DailyFT, December 16, 2015, http://www.ft.lk/article/509053/Two-petitions-in-SC-against-Govt--amendments-to-Penal-Code-on-hate-speech

130 “Govt backs away from bills claimed to bar free speech”, The Sunday Times, December 20, 2015, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151220/news/govt-backs-away-from-bills-claimed-to-bar-free-speech-175994.html

131 Gehan Gunatilleka, “Hate Speech in Sri Lanka: How a New Ban Could Perpetuate Impunity”, OHRH, January 11, 2016, http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/hate-speech-in-sri-lanka-how-a-new-ban-could-perpetuate-impunity/

132 Nushka Nafeel, “New laws to curb cyber crimes”, Daily News, November 6, 2015, http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2015/11/05/features/new-laws-curb-cyber-crimes-0

133 “A Brief Guide to the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution”, May 2015, Centre for Policy Alternatives, https://www.cpalanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/A-Brief-Guide-to-the-Nineteenth-Amendment.pdf

134 Report on Public Representations on Constitutional Reform, May 2016, http://www.yourconstitution.lk/PRCRpt/PRC_english_report-A4.pdf

135 T. Ramakrishnan, “Resolution passed to convert Sri Lankan Parliament into Constitutional Assembly”, The Hindu, March 10, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/resolution-passed-to-convert-sri-lankan-parliament-into-constitutional-assembly/article8332294.ece

136 “Sri Lanka parliament appoint members to committees at the first sitting of Constitutional Assembly”, Colombo Page, April 6, 2016, http://www.colombopage.com/archive_16A/Apr06_1459923593CH.php

138 Uditha Kumarasinghe, “Week in Parliament: 19th Amendment a victory for all”, Sunday Observer, May 3rd, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KjMax7.

139 Namini Wijedasa, “Right to Information Bill to be gazetted soon”, The Sunday Times, December 6th, 2015, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151206/sports/right-to-information-bill-to-be-gazetted-soon-174329.html

140 “RTI bill presented in Sri Lankan Parliament”, Business Standard News, March 24, 2016, http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/rti-bill-presented-in-lanka-parliament-116032400454_1.html

141 Lionel Guruge, “The 20th Amendment, Right to Information, and Audit Act,” The Sunday Leader, May 31, 2015, http://bit.ly/1guvURj; “Strenghtening RTI”, DailyFT, March 5th, 2016, http://www.ft.lk/article/529323/Strengthening-RTI

142 Gehan Gunatilleke, “The Struggle for Right to Information in Sri Lanka”, Oxford Human Rights Hub, April 13, 2016, http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/the-struggle-for-right-to-information-in-sri-lanka-is-it-leaving-victims-behind/

143 “Sri Lanka: Transparency International Sri Lanka supports RTI bill as it stands”, Colombo Page, April 10th, 2016, http://www.colombopage.com/archive_16A/Apr10_1460269853CH.php.

144 “Three petitions in SC against RTI bill”, The Sunday Times, April 3rd, 2016, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160403/news/three-petitions-in-sc-against-rti-bill-188565.html

145 T. Ramakrishnan, “Sri Lanka’s RTI Bill: Government to study Supreme Court’s suggestions”, The Hindu, May 7, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lankas-rti-bill-government-to-study-supreme-courts-suggestions/article8569983.ece; Venkatesh Nayak, “The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka suggests changes to the RTI bill to facilitate easy passage through Parliament”, CHRI, May 11, 2016, http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/blog/the-supreme-court-of-sri-lanka-suggests-changes-to-the-rti-bill-to-facilitate-easy-passage-through-parliament.

146 “Sri Lanka RTI Bill Needs Two Thirds Majority – SC; Five Sections Inconsistent with the Constitution”, Sri Lanka Brief, May 4, 2016, http://srilankabrief.org/2016/05/sri-lanka-rti-bill-needs-two-thirds-majority-sc/

147 P.K. Balachandran, “Lankan Government to Amend RTI Bill as Per Supreme Court’s Suggestions”, The New Indian Express, May 3, 2016, http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/Lankan-Government-To-Amend-RTI-Bill-as-Per-Supreme-Courts-Suggestions/2016/05/03/article3413594.ece

148 “Websites propagating false news sealed—MOD,” Daily Mirror, June 30, 2012, http://bit.ly/1KTIWG0.

149 Farook Thajudeen, “Pornographic material from Sri Lanka Mirror computers—CID,” Daily Mirror, July 23, 2012, http://bit.ly/1KsHtVf.

150 Binoy Suriyaarachchi, “SL Mirror computers returned,” Ceylon Today, September 18, 2012, http://www.ceylontoday.lk/13044-print.html.

151 T. Farook Thajudeen, “Sri Lanka Mirror case set aside,” Daily FT, September 19, 2012, http://www.ft.lk/2012/09/19/sri-lanka-mirror-case-set-aside/.

152 “When the CID raided Sri Lanka Mirror”, Sri Lanka Mirror, June 30, 2015, http://srilankamirror.com/news/item/4858-when-the-cid-raided-sri-lanka-mirror

153 Centre for Policy Alternatives, “Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites: The Continuing Violation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet,” press release, November 9, 2011, http://bit.ly/1guxKkU.

154 “It’s ok for government to infiltrate online privacy of Sri Lankan citizens?,” ICT for Peacebuilding (blog), April 17, 2010, http://bit.ly/1UYLuaC.

155 Ruki Fernando, “Tamils in North & East remember those killed despite intimidation and surveillance,” Groundviews, May 20, 2015, http://groundviews.org/2015/05/20/tamils-in-north-east-sri-lanka-remember-those-killed-despite-intimidation-and-surveillance/.

156 ‘Dialog CEO Hans Wijesuriya: “No surveillance program in Sri Lanka, but telecoms have to comply”.

157ZTE Corporation signed an agreement with Mobitel to develop its 4G LTE network and carried out successful trials in May 2011, while SLT’s ADSL infrastructure is supported by Huawei. See, ZTE, “Sri Lanka’s Mobitel and ZTE Corporation Carry Out the First Successful 4G(LTE) Trial in South Asia,” news release, May 17, 2011, http://wwwen.zte.com.cn/pub/en/press_center/news/201105/t20110517_234745.html; Ranjith Wijewardena, “SLT Tie Up With Huawei to Expand Broadband Internet Coverage,” The Island, September 29, 2006, http://www.island.lk/2006/09/29/business11.html;

Sanjana Hattotuwa, “Are Chinese Telecoms acting as the ears for the Sri Lankan government?,” Groundviews, February 16, 2012, http://groundviews.org/2012/02/16/are-chinese-telecoms-acting-as-the-ears-for-the-sri-lankan-government/; “The President of Sri Lanka His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa holds discussions with Huawei Chairwoman Ms. Sun Yafang, Expressing thanks and acknowledgement on Huawei’s contribution to ICT industry and Education locally,” Lanka Business Today, May 27, 2014, http://pr.huawei.com/en/news/hw-340356-ict.htm#.Vg2CUvlVhBc.

158 “Hacking the hackers: Surveillance in Sri Lanka revealed”, Groundviews, July 15, 2015, http://groundviews.org/2015/07/15/hacking-the-hackers-surveillance-in-sri-lanka-revealed/

159 “Wikileaks – The Hackingteam Archives”, https://wikileaks.org/hackingteam/emails/emailid/238000

160 “Wikileaks – The Hackingteam Archives”, https://wikileaks.org/hackingteam/emails/emailid/577225

161 Bandula Sirimanna, “Sri Lanka to tighten mobile phone regulations,” The Sunday Times, October 31, 2010, http://bit.ly/1UYM0FC.

162 Committee to Protect Journalists, “Journalists Killed, Sri Lanka: Dharmeratnam Sivaram,” April 29, 2009, http://bit.ly/1KsU0YC.

163 “A disappearance every five days in post-war Sri Lanka,” Groundviews, August 30, 2012, http://bit.ly/1YgI6qV.

164 Krishan Francis, “Abduction squads in Sri Lanka target foes of powerful, “The Washington Times, August 22, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LAAeXF.

165 “Want to Re-Open Investigations on Attacks on Media: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena,” NDTV/Press Trust of India, May 30, 2015, http://bit.ly/1QkO3NM.

166 “Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa family: Crashing fall from grace”, BBC News, February 5, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35505995

167 T. Farook Thajudeen, “Prageeth Eknaligoda disappearance case still ongoing,” Daily FT, December 24, 2011, http://bit.ly/1iSm39L;Bob Dietz, “UN Heard Eknelygoda’s cry for help; husband still missing,” Committee to Protect Journalists (Blog), May 21, 2011, http://bit.ly/Gzv9o2.

168 Chris Kamalendran, “Eknaligoda Case: Focus on ex-AG,” The Sunday Times, December 11, 2011, http://sundaytimes.lk/111211/News/nws_24.html.

169 Scott Griffen,“In Sri Lanka, media settle in for long march to change”, International Press Institute, February 1, 2016, http://www.freemedia.at/newssview/article/feature-in-sri-lanka-media-settle-in-for-long-march-to-change.html; Thilaka Sanjaya, “Feet-dragging over Lasantha’s grave”, Sunday Observer, January 17, 2016, http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2016/01/17/sec04.asp.

170 “681 SL cyber security incidents so far in 2011,” The Sunday Times, October 16, 2011, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/111016/BusinessTimes/bt31.html.

171 Centre for Policy Alternatives, Freedom of Expression on the Internet, 42.

172Data and Information Unit of the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka, “CSIRT system launched in Sri Lanka to prevent cyber attacks on banks,” July 2, 2014, http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/Current_Affairs/ca201407/20140702csirt_system_launched_sl_prevent_cyber_attacks_banks.htm.

173 Damith Wickremasekera, “CID to fight cyber crime with Hi-tech Crime Investigation Units”, The Sunday Times, November 1, 2015, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151101/news/cid-to-fight-cyber-crime-with-hi-tech-crime-investigation-units-169982.html

Total Score: 
44
(0 = Best, 100 = Worst)
Obstacles to Access: 
14
(0 = Best, 25 = Worst)
Limits on Content: 
12
(0 = Best, 35 = Worst)
Violations of User Rights: 
18
(0 = Best, 40 = Worst)

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