Sri Lanka Economic Crisis: Social media blocked, Curfew imposed as protests rise in Colombo

Sri Lanka government imposed a nationwide social media blackout after midnight on Sunday, April 3, according to an internet observatory. So...

Sri Lanka government imposed a nationwide social media blackout after midnight on Sunday, April 3, according to an internet observatory.

Some two dozen social media platforms were affected including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram.

"Confirmed: Real-time network data show Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide social media blackout, restricting access to platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Instagram as emergency is declared amid
widespread protests,” NetBlocks tweeted.

Ahead of the planned protest for Sunday, the island nation had declared a 36- hour curfew from Saturday to Monday as the country faced a severe power crisis and rising inflation.

The island nation of 22 million people is having a hard time dealing with blackouts for up to 13 hours a day as the government scrambles to secure foreign exchange to pay for fuel imports.

A London based rights watchdog on Saturday warned the Sri Lankan government that the declaration of emergency in the island nation, in the name of public security, should not become a pretext for human rights
violations.

"Sri Lanka: The declaration of the state of emergency in the name of public security should not become a pretext for further human rights violations. The order declaring a state of emergency intends to restrict the rights to freedom of association, assembly and movement as well as due process protections,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“In the context of growing public discontentment with the government's handing of economics crisis, the state of emergency could have the effect of stifling dissent by creating fear, facilitating arbitrary arrests and detention," the statement added.

On Friday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued the Extraordinary Gazette declaring a state of public emergency in Sri Lanka with immediate effect.

Rajapaksa said the emergency was declared in the interests of public security, protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered on Saturday that no one should visit public places without permission during a 36-hour curfew.

While Rajapaksa issued a special gazette notification on Friday, declaring a public emergency in Sri Lanka with effect from 1st April, in another regulation following his action to impose a state of emergency which followed an order to impose a nationwide curfew, Rajapaksa said no one should come out and visit public places during the curfew hours.

"I consider that it is necessary to maintain public order in the areas. I Direct that no person shall be on any public road, railway, public park, public recreation ground or other public ground or the seashore in such areas from 1800 hour of April 2, 2022, to 0600 hours of April 4, 2022, except under the authority of a written permit granted, he said.

However, even after the curfew came into force at 6 pm on Saturday, peaceful protests continued well into the night. People were seen protesting in several Colombo suburbs despite the curfew order.

On Saturday, there was also a social media speculation that Indian Armed troops had arrived in the island nation to help maintain law and order. However, Sri Lankan Defence Ministry told news personnel that local troops were capable of handling any national security emergency and no such aid from outside was required.

Separately, the Indian High Commission also issued a statement categorically dismissing the reports. "High Commission (of India) strongly denies blatantly false and completely baseless reports in a section of media that India is dispatching its soldiers to Sri Lanka. The High Commission also condemns such irresponsible reporting and expects the concerned to desist from spreading rumours," the Indian commission said.

In recent weeks, there has been mounting public anger against the government over its handling of the country's worst-ever economic crisis.

Commenting on the emergency, independent think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives said that regulations may impose restrictions on certain fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution one of them would be among others: the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association, movement, occupation, religion, culture and language.

Lawyers commented that the regulations gave the police sweeping powers to arrest anyone for unlawful assembly.
The regulations must be approved in Parliament every 30 days from their imposition.

The declaration came at the same time as the court ordered bail to a section of the protesters arrested for the demonstration opposite Rajapaksa's private residence on Thursday.

The government blamed the Rajapaksa residence incidents on an extreme group connected to the Opposition political parties.

Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire as the agitation turned violent. Police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters after they pulled down a steel barricade placed near the president's residence.

Following the incident, several people were arrested and a curfew briefly imposed in most parts of Colombo city. A statement issued by the presidential media division on Friday said an extremist group was behind the unrest near President Rajapaksa's residence in Mirihana.

Sri Lanka is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis in history. With long lines for fuel, cooking gas, essentials in short supply and long hours of power cuts the public has been suffering for weeks.

Meanwhile, a consignment of 40,000 metric tonnes of diesel from India reached Sri Lanka on Saturday, the fourth such assistance from New Delhi, to mitigate the spike in power cuts in the island nation, which is facing an unprecedented economic and energy crisis caused due to shortage of foreign exchange.

Rajapaksa has defended his government's actions, saying the foreign exchange crisis was not his making and the economic downturn was largely pandemic driven where the island's tourism revenue and inward remittances waning.

With input from agencies

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India World News: Sri Lanka Economic Crisis: Social media blocked, Curfew imposed as protests rise in Colombo
Sri Lanka Economic Crisis: Social media blocked, Curfew imposed as protests rise in Colombo
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