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 was being restored. . Services were restricted towards the end of April 2 local time. It comes after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on April 1, giving sweeping powers to the security forces. There are growing protests in the country demanding his resignation due to the current economic crisis. A thirty-six-hour curfew was also imposed from 6 p.m. on April 2 to 6 a.m. on April 4 to quell protests.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst financial crisis since its independence in 1948, amid depletion of foreign currency reserves. Power outages, fuel, petrol and medicine shortages and rising food prices have sparked widespread protests. According to the president, the state of emergency was necessary to protect public order and ensure essential supplies and services.
Protests against the Rajapaksa government and the powerful Rajapaksa family escalated on March 31, 2022, Thursday before the early hours of April 1. Citizen journalism platform Groundviews has been logging a timeline of the situation since March 31.
Blogger and activist Amalini De Sayrah tweeted:
Military tanks roll through the streets of the capital in darkness, access to information restricted overnight, people risking arrest for speaking out, vulnerable groups made even more vulnerable.
—Amalini (@Amaliniiii) April 3, 2022
People started noticing social media blocking on Saturday night. Activist and academician Sanjana Hattotuwa tweeted:
Early reports from multiple locations indicate #Facebook is now disturbed in #Sri Lanka. Access to Meta’s products/platforms may deteriorate at pace. Perhaps the first of the other major social media platforms to which access from inside the country will be blocked by the government.
— Dr. Sanjana Hattotuwa (@sanjanah) April 2, 2022
Netblocks confirmed the block on Twitter:
⚠️ Confirmed: Real-time network data shows Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide social media shutdown, restricting access to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram as the emergency is declared amid widespread protests.
📰 Report: https://t.co/XGvXEFIqom pic.twitter.com/KEpzYfGKjV
—NetBlocks (@netblocks) April 2, 2022
Some, like data scientist, author and fact checker Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, had full of advice about the VPN to use to bypass the block:
Looks like they blocked @Twitter, @Facebook and @WhatsApp.#GoHomeRajapaksas
Alright, let me give some advice to people trying to connect
1) Don’t download random VPN apps. Most of them steal data. If you want the good stuff, download TOR (https://t.co/dDsgY9nUcF). pic.twitter.com/AZ3EzS1zif
— Yudhanjaya Wijeratne 🎭 (@yudhanjaya) April 2, 2022
Political cartoons from Sri Lanka tweeted:
“Nothing to worry about! You are safe now!!”
— Political cartoons from Sri Lanka (@cartoonlka) April 2, 2022
Open source researcher and evangelist Pradeeban Kathiravelu tweeted:
[Sri Lanka] In a drastic move to curb dissent, the Rajapaksa regime is blocking access to social media. Residents also fear outright censorship of the Internet. @ripencc
People have the right to be informed. The regime has threatened to take tough action against independent protesters.
— Pradeeban (@pradeeban) April 2, 2022
Contrary to the constitution
According to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), the ban was implemented at the request of the Department of Defense.
Lawyer Gehan Gunatilleke interrogates:
How can a total ban on social media in response to people protesting peacefully against the government be reasonable or proportionate?
— Gehan Gunatilleke (@GehanDG) April 3, 2022
Gunatilekke highlights in This thread that the Sri Lankan constitution governs the limits of freedom of expression and not the Sri Lankan telecommunications law.
Lawyer NK Ashokbharan also claimed:
This not only violates Art 14(1)(a) – Freedom of expression; but for many Art 14(1)(g) – Freedom of occupation and commerce who depend on social media for a living.
The Ministry of Defense and the TRCSL do not have the power to restrict fundamental rights according to their whims and fancies. https://t.co/iOfWHxeBNh
— 𝗡.𝗞.𝗔𝘀𝗵𝗼𝗸𝗯𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗮𝗻 (@nkashokbharan) April 3, 2022
Meanwhile, Namal Rajapaksa, Sri Lankan Minister of Youth and Sports and son of current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, tweeted:
I will never tolerate social media blocking. The availability of VPN, just like I use now, makes these bans completely unnecessary. I urge the authorities to think more gradually and reconsider this decision. #SocialMediaBanLK #Sri Lanka #lka
— Namal Rajapaksa (@RajapaksaNamal) April 3, 2022
However, Academician Ishara Paranawithana quips on Rajapaksa, recalling his additional portfolio – the State Minister for Digital Technology and Entrepreneur Development:
When the minister himself does not know who the responsible authorities are! 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/QaJAQqYeTB
—Ishara Paranawithana (@isharackp) April 3, 2022
The Vikalpa citizen journalism platform highlights protest voices:
— Vikalpa (@vikalpavoices) April 3, 2022
Demonstrations under curfew
On Sunday April 3, protesters were seen defying the curfew in Kandy and Colombo to turn out in large numbers to demand the resignation of the president. Police used tear gas on protesters in many places.
Despite the social media ban, many journalists like Kavinthan Shanmugarajah continued to share the news from the field on Twitter:
Almost 24 hours after the curfew and pocket protests have already erupted in several parts of the country, despite the declaration of a public emergency and the issuing of serious warnings. Images from Kohuwela showing people with their children taking to the streets. #Sri Lanka pic.twitter.com/ynRHb483oE
— Kavinthan (@Kavinthans) April 3, 2022
Footage shows where a 53-year-old man who allegedly came to meet the president at his Mirihana home to ask for uninterrupted electricity died from electrocution while climbing a high voltage power line near the house. #Sri Lanka pic.twitter.com/WjRok0cVKA
— Kavinthan (@Kavinthans) April 3, 2022
After a meeting on the night of Sunday April 3, 2022, all 26 Sri Lankan cabinet ministers resigned. However, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa still hold power. The government is due to appoint a new cabinet on Monday.