Social media platforms in Sri Lanka briefly restricted amidst curfew and protests

Image via Pxfuel. Free for commercial use.

Image via Pxfuel. Free for commercial and non-commercial use.

On the evening of Sunday, April 3, 2022, global Internet monitor NetBlocks reported that access to major social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber etc.) in Sri Lanka were being restored. Services were restricted at around the end of April 2 local time. This comes after the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on April 1, giving sweeping power to security forces. There are growing protests in the country demanding his resignation over the ongoing economic crisis. A thirty-six hour-long curfew was also imposed from 6 p.m. on April 2 until 6 a.m. on April 4 to suppress the protests.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948, amid depleting foreign currency reserves. Rolling blackouts, shortages of fuel, gas and medicine, and higher prices of food items have sparked widespread protests. According to the president, the state of emergency was required to protect public order and ensure essential supplies and services.

Protests against the Rajapaksa government and the powerful Rajapaksa family intensified on March 31, 2022, Thursday leading into the early hours of April 1. Citizen journalism platform Groundviews journaled a timeline of the situation since March 31.

Blogger and activist Amalini De Sayrah tweeted:

No prior notice

People started to notice the social media block on Saturday night. Activist and academician Sanjana Hattotuwa tweeted:

Netblocks confirmed the block on Twitter:

Some, like data scientist, author and fact-checker Yudhanjaya Wijeratne had plenty of advice about which VPN to use to bypass the block:

Political Cartoons of Sri Lanka tweeted:

Researcher and open source evangelist Pradeeban Kathiravelu tweeted:

Contrary to the constitution

According to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), the ban was implemented on a request made by the Ministry of Defence.

Lawyer Gehan Gunatilleke questioned:

Gunatilekke highlights in this thread that the Sri Lankan constitution governs the limits of the freedom of expression and not the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act.

Lawyer N. K. Ashokbharan also asserted:

Meanwhile, Namal Rajapaksa, the Sri Lanka Cabinet Minister of Youth and Sports and the son of current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, tweeted:

However, academician Ishara Paranawithana quips at Rajapaksa, reminding about his added portfolio — State Minister of Digital Technology and Entrepreneur Development:

Citizen journalism platform Vikalpa highlights protesting voices:

Protests amidst curfew

On Sunday, April 3, protesters were seen defying curfew in Kandy and Colombo to turn out in numbers demanding the president's resignation. The police used tear gas on the protesters in many places.

Despite the social media ban, many journalists like Kavinthan Shanmugarajah continued to share the news on the ground on Twitter:

After a meeting on Sunday, April 3, 2022 night, all 26 ministers of the Sri Lankan cabinet resigned. However, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa still hold power. The government is set to appoint a new cabinet on Monday.

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