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Social media blocked, curfew imposed as protests mount in Colombo

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

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

Around 20 social media platforms were affected, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram.

“Confirmed: Real-time network data shows Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide social media blackout, restricting access to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram as an emergency is declared in environment
widespread protests,” NetBlocks tweeted.

Ahead of the protest scheduled 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 is struggling to cope with power outages of up to 13 hours a day as the government scrambles to obtain foreign currency to pay for fuel imports.

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

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

“In the context of growing public discontent with the government’s handling of the economic crisis, the state of emergency could have the effect of stifling dissent by creating fear, facilitating arbitrary arrests and detentions “, adds the press release.

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

Rajapaksa said the state of emergency was declared in the interest of public safety, protection of public order and maintenance of essential supplies and services for the life of the community.

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

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

“I consider it necessary to maintain public order in the areas. I order that no one be on any public road, railway, public park, public recreation ground or other public land or on the seashore in these areas from 6:00 p.m. April 2, 2022, to 06:00 a.m. April 4, 2022, except under the authority of a granted written permit, he said.

However, even after the curfew went into effect on Saturday at 6 p.m., peaceful protests continued late into the night. People were seen protesting in several Colombo suburbs despite the curfew order.

On Saturday, there was also speculation on social media that armed Indian troops had arrived in the island nation to help maintain law and order. However, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense told reporters that local troops were capable of handling any national security emergency and that no such outside help was needed.

Separately, the Indian High Commission also issued a statement categorically rejecting the reports. “The High Commission (of India) strongly denies the blatantly false and totally unfounded reports in a section of the media that India is sending its soldiers to Sri Lanka. The High Commission also condemns such irresponsible reports and expects people concerned that they refrain from spreading rumours,” the Indian commission said.

In recent weeks, public anger at the government has grown over its handling of the country’s worst economic crisis ever.

Commenting on the urgency, the independent think tank Center for Policy Alternatives said that regulations can 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 pointed out that the regulations gave police sweeping powers to arrest anyone for unlawful assembly.
Regulations must be approved in Parliament every 30 days from their imposition.

The statement came as the court ordered the release on bail of some of the protesters arrested for the protest outside Rajapaksa’s private residence on Thursday.

The government blamed the incidents at Rajapaksa’s residence on an extremist group linked to opposition political parties.

Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire as the unrest turned violent. Police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters after knocking 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 released 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 the worst economic crisis in its history. With long queues for fuel, cooking gas, shortages of basic necessities and long hours of power cuts, the public has been suffering for weeks.

Meanwhile, a 40,000 metric ton shipment of diesel from India reached Sri Lanka on Saturday, the fourth such aid from New Delhi, to ease the island nation’s spike in power cuts, which is making faced with an unprecedented economic and energy crisis caused by a shortage of foreign currency.

Rajapaksa defended his government’s actions, saying the currency crisis was not his fault and the economic downturn was largely due to the pandemic, where the island’s tourism revenue and inbound remittances were decreasing.

With the contribution of the agencies

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