Over the weekend, a press release issued by the Director General of the Department of Government Information noted that all ‘websites carrying any content relating to Sri Lanka or the people of Sri Lanka… uploaded from Sri Lanka or elsewhere’ to ‘register’ for ‘accreditation’. Several websites Websites including www.lankanewsweb.com, www.srilankamirror.com, www.srilankaguardian.org and www.lankawaynews.com were blocked on the day the press release was issued.

Web censorship has grown apace since 2007, when the pro-LTTE Tamilnet.com was first blocked, without any court order. The following Bundlr collection flags some key incidents and concerns regarding the growing censorship of online expression and content. It is also a record of how supine Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are in Sri Lanka when complying with arbitrary orders issued by the government for the blocking of websites.

We will continue to curate this bundle with new developments.

  • Censorship is obscene. But I’m sure the usual culprits who endorse everything this government does, will also come up with some funny arguments to justify the blocking of local websites.
    Fortunately for us there is such a thing as proxy sites.

    Those of you who want to access lankanewsweb.com and lankaenews.com can use this proxy site http://2.hidemyass.com/ip-12

  • Does anyone inside GoSL understand how the internet works? Obviously not. If the US couldn’t stop wikileaks and China can’t police their own, state-owned social networks…

    Arthur C Clarke said this in 1983, well before the interweb was invented.

    “The debate about the free flow of information which has been going on for so many years will soon be settled – by engineers, not politicians… No government will be able to conceal, at least for very long, evidence of crimes or atrocities – even from its own people. The very existence of the myriad of new information channels, operating in real time and across all frontiers, will powerfully influence civilised behaviour.

    If you are arranging a massacre, it will be useless to shoot the cameraman who has inconveniently appeared on the scene. His pictures will already be safe in the studio 5,000 kilometres away; and his final image may hang you. Many governments will not be happy about this, but in the long run everyone will benefit.”

    Arthur C. Clarke in 1983, “Beyond 2001”, Ruth Petrie, Film & Censorship, 1997 pp191-192

    • Great quote!! Thanks for sharing

      Here is the full text of the speech Sir Clarke Delivered on the UN World Communications Day in 1983

      Long before the global network of ?xed telephones is fully established, there will be a parallel development that will eventually bypass it completely—though probably not until well into the twenty-first century. It is starting now, with cellular networks, portable radiophones, and paging devices, and will lead ultimately to our old science-?ction friend the wristwatch telephone. Before we reach that, there will be an intermediate stage. During the coming decade, more and more businessmen, well-heeled tourists, and virtually all newspersons will be carrying units that will permit direct two-way communication with their homes or of?ces, via the most convenient satellite. These will provide voice, telex, and video facilities (still photos and, for those who need it, live TV coverage). As these units become cheaper, smaller, and more universal, they will make travelers totally independent of national communications systems. The implications of this are profound-and not only to media news-gatherers who will no longer be at the mercy of censors or inef?cient (sometimes non-existent) postal or telecommunications services. It means the end of closed societies and will lead ultimately—to repeat a phrase I heard Arnold Toynbee use years ago to the uni?cation of the world.

      You may think this is a naive prediction, because many countries wouldn’t let such subversive machines across their borders. But they would have no choice; the alternative would be economic suicide, because very soon they would get no tourists and no businessmen offering foreign currency. They’d get only spies, who would have no trouble at all concealing the powerful new tools of their ancient trade. What I am saying, in fact, is that the debate about the free flow of information which has been going on for so many years will soon be settled-by engineers, not politicians. (Just as physicists, and not generals, have now determined the nature of war.) Consider what this means. No government will be able to conceal, at least for very long, evidence of crimes or atrocities—even from its own people.

      The very existence of a myriad of new information channels, operating in real time and across all frontiers, will be a powerful in?uence for civilized behavior. If you are arranging a massacre, it will be useless to shoot the cameraman who has so inconveniently appeared on the scene. His pictures will already be safe in the studio five thousand kilometers away; and his ?nal image may hang you. I wish I could claim that improved communications would lead to peace and general prosperity, but the matter is not as simple as that. Excellent communications—even a common language-have not brought peace to Northern Ireland, to give but one of many possible examples. Nevertheless, good communications of every type, and at all levels, are essential if we are ever to establish peace on this planet. As the mathematicians would say—they are necessary, but not su?cient. In the closing decade of the nineteenth century an electrical engineer, W. E. Ayrton, was lecturing at London’s Imperial Institute about the most modern of communications devices, the submarine telegraph cable. He ended with what must, to all his listeners, have seemed the wildest of fantasy.

      There is no doubt that the day will come, maybe when you and I are forgotten, when copper wires, gutta-percha coverings and iron sheathings will be relegated to the Museum of Antiquities. Then, when a person wants to telegraph to a friend, he knows not where, he will call in an electro-magnetic voice, which will be heard loud by him who has the electro-magnetic ear, but will be silent to everyone else. I-le will call “Where are you?” and the reply will come “I am at the bottom of the coal-mine” or “Crossing the Andes” or “In the middle of the Paci?c”; or perhaps no reply will come at all, and he may then conclude that his friend is dead.

      This truly astonishing prophecy was made in 1897, long before anyone could imagine how it might be ful?lled. A century later, it is on the verge of achievement, because the wristwatch telephone will soon be coming into general use. And if you still believe that such a device is unlikely, ask yourself this question: Who could have imagined the personal watch, back in the Middle Ages—when the only clocks were clanking, room-sized mechanisms, the pride and joy of a few cathedrals. For that matter, many of you carry on your wrists miracles of electronics that would have been beyond belief even twenty years ago. The symbols that ?icker across those digital displays now often give only the date and time. Soon they will do far more than that. They will give you direct access to most of the human race, through the Internet and the other invisible networks girdling our planet.

      The long-heralded global village is almost upon us, but it will last for only a ?ickering moment in the history of humankind. Before we even realize that it has come, it will be superseded—by what I have called the “global family.” This is what Dr. Joseph – Pelton, director of the new Clarke Institute of Telecommunications and Information (CITI) has chosen to call the World-Wide Mind. In the 1960s Marshall McLuhan helped us understand the importance of the emerging new electronic media and offered us the concept of the “Global Village” but the rate of change only increases. As we start a new millennium, Joe Pelton suggests that the new paradigm is the newly emerging World-Wide Mind and the start of a true “planetary consciousness,” which he calls the “e-Sphere.”

  • Nithyananthan

    Cats always close their eyes when licking milk – but wide-open when eating food. They may have their reason for their peculiar behaviour. Generally, people say that the cats are thinking that the world is darkened and no body is seeing them drinking milk. Similarly, cabals also act / behave like the cats.

    We all know what the abbreviation of original big triple WWW stands for. But most of us are not familiar with or still don’t know the recent invention / introduction of a duplicate ‘big three Ws to the English glossary! It gradually moves forward to gain recognition of stature on its own. This phrase was evolving to describe the then unfolding scenarios when the Rescue Operations like ‘Humanitarian Liberation, No Fire Zones’ and Welfare Centre were underway with blindfold to obstruct / keep way from apprehension.

    In this age of Information Supper Highway, even the cats will think twice before they close their eyes to lick. Blindfold is an obsolete technique.

    There is nothing new to be neither excited nor bored about the Essence of the article. If it’s saying that the flood gate is opened then it would have been something unusual to call for an uproarious celebration similar to a New Year eve. Thanks, Nithy!

  • Mark O’Doherty

    Blocking anti-government websites does not sound good at all; as it violates freedom of expression and freedom of press…
    The Sri Lankan government seems to believe that all people must think and live as they do. And this is not only a declaration of war to the Sri Lankan people, but to all of humanity.
    I visited friends of mine in Sri Lanka in 2009, hoping that the violent times were passed now, and that the new government would finally get their act together and start implementing basic human rights; like freedom of expression and freedom of press. But apparently this is not the case. Sri Lanka is still ruled by a bunch of idiots, who do not seem to have any notion at all what power is – much less how to use their political power for the benefit of the Sri Lankan People.

    I hope the situation in Sri Lanka will improve again. But if such blatent violations of Human Rights continue, perhaps the current government in Sri Lanka should be replaced temporarily by a provisional western government, so that the country has finally a chance to get back on its feet again. The UN Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child must be upheld in all countries – including Sri Lanka!

    • Observer

      Mark, we had a provisional Western government before, it was called Colonialism where people suffered! lol You got to be kidding me! Do you want slaves to go with that Sir?

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    Hey Mark! Look at the frenzied reaction of the US and others to Wikileaks and you will see the answer. Not only GOSL but all governments are like this.

    Personally, I’m all for freedom of expression but some of these websites do put highly scurrilous material that defame persons and would not be even tolerated in print media.Should they not be subjected to some controls? Self regulation is always the best but that never happens

    • Mark O’Doherty

      Thank you for your feedback! Good point – perhaps the government in Sri Lanka is really not much worse than in other countries, and there is no reason for concern. However, when I was in Sri Lanka in 2009, I believe there was an incident where a local journalist wrote critically about the Sri lankan government, and was consequently tortured and murdered.
      These two aspects seem to go hand in hand in tyranical governments – strict censorship of press, and ‘legitimized’ executions to those who do not obey government regulations…

      This incidentally brings us to a very interesting point: What actually constitues a ‘liberal’ government, and when is a government ‘tyrannical’?
      Because when it comes to discerning tyranny from liberty, the problem often is that the two are very closely associated with each other. The truth today, especially in politics is very difficult to discern . . .
      Indeed, often in the past, great empires that were deemed in the beginning as “good” by many people, went down in history as evil empires – Hitler’s “Third Reich”, and Stalin’s Soviet Union are the best known examples in recent times.
      However, there are some basic criteria that constitute a typical tyrannical government. For example, lack of freedom of expression and strict censorship of the press.
      There are some common characteristics of tyranical governments, which many of them seem to share. Very typical is that such governments believe that they have the answers to everything, making sudden decisions and taking quick action. That is how, they believe, the problems of a country are solved. However, the reality of politics is that there are simply no quick solutions and answers to the problems of a country, or the world at large, except if excessive force is used, and indeed that is usually how a tyrannical government can be identified.
      But the most common trademark of tyrannical governments is probably there somewhat limited sense of humor, that is, they get very upset if somebody makes fun of them. Beware of those countries, where the court jesters have been banished! That most likely is a country ruled by a tyranical government. Is Sri Lanka such a government? I do not know. Perhaps a Sri Lankan citizen can answer that question.

      However, I do agree, that defaming people publicly with malicious intent is not a nice thing to do and should be condemmed. But being publicly critisized – and even ridiculed – is simply part of the bargain when somebody decides to become a politician.
      Otherwise politicians would serve hardly any purpose at all:)

  • Karen

    Well right now there is a media inquiry in Australia! Because the government got hammered by a privately owned media outlet. Sure they didn’t ban any content yet but are looking for excuses for weakening them and have publicly condemned a certain media outlet for criticising the government. The current communications minister is also looking at enforcing block lists for the Internet. Trust me, you guys don’t have it so bad in Sri Lanka! Yet anyway.

  • Chrissy Abeysekera

    I find this comment that the GOSL must be replaced by a ‘provisional western government’ quite offensive! Having a ‘Western government’ here would be a nightmare. Look at the hypocrisy in Iraq, Afghanistan, now Libya… the list is endless!!Please stop holding up the West as an example. We have gone past all thaat naivete long time ago.

    • Mark O’Doherty

      Ok, I take that back. The current government of Sri Lanka is indeed a fine government and should under no circumstances be replaced. Instead of looking at Western concepts, like freedom of press and democracy, we should rather look at the shining example of the government of Sri Lanka, which is truly a Beacon of Light to the rest of the world:)

      The point I am trying to make is simply this: If one wants to change a society in a positive way, it is usually helpful to have a paradigm, an ideal or an archetype to strive for. And concepts like freedom of expression, freedom of press, human rights and democracy can serve as positive paradigms for Post-Civil-War Societies like Sri Lanka. The roots of these concepts may actually have originated in the East, or even Africa, but – like it or not – Western Societes were among the first to declare them as Fundamental Rights in a generally-regarded set of entitlements in the context of a legal system.

      Regardless of that, I for one would be more than happy if global citizens from Post-War-Societies – like Sri Lanka, for example – would finally start renouncing the West, and start counter-acting the ‘brain drain’ in their respective countries, which is currently one of the biggest challenges which our global village is facing. As a social worker in Austria, I am confronted with the problems of refugess and migrants on a daily basis, caused by the inhumane systems of border patrols and detention centers of the European Union; just to protect the ‘Fortress Europe’ from illegal immigration. Granted, inhumane policies by the EU are part of the problem; but the main problem I think are the bad governments in Failed States.

      The core of the problem in my opinion is this: All international organisations – including the UN – have failed to empower our global fellow citizens in Failed States. Why? Because the responsibility to lead them is left to the “governments” of these Failed States under the assumption that sooner or later they will become functional. There is only one flaw with that assumption: There isn’t – and never was – a modern functional government in these “Failed States”, so how are they supposed to become successful if they are left to their leaders who have no intention of adapting to concepts of human rights, liberty and democracy?

      So what is the solution to Failed States?
      In my opinion, the leaders of these failed states, have to be taught how to become a “successful state.”
      Teaching the leaders of a post-civil-war society in a failed state is a very important part of peace work; to help them develop a consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and to connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.
      Before the failed state can govern itself and act independently, its failed social- and economic infrastructure needs to be reconstructed, as well as the implementation of fundamatal rights, such as freedom of expression, and freedom of press.

      So forget about U.S. post-war scenarios like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya – I am talking about completely different peace paradigms, without the need to resort to war and violence. I am talking about peace work based primarily on the merits of education and willingness to learn.

      The fundamental question is this: Do the majority of the Sri Lankan citizens think that their government is doing a good job?
      If so – and I truly hope that this is the case – we can close the subject.

      However, if they are some Sri Lankan citizens who feel that they are deprived of their fundamental rights by their government, then further options need to be discussed.

  • Observer

    “US demanded that Colombo respect freedom of expression.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/11/us-verdict-privacy-wikileaks-twitter

    “…Last month the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which represents MPs from 157 countries, unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the move by the Justice Department. The IPU said the move threatened free speech and suggested it could violate Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression…”

    tsk tsk…

  • Observer

    http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/monitoring-america/

    Just saying, Sri Lanka is only blocking couple of web sites that mostly carry propaganda rather than actual news. It’s not actively monitoring communications with a huge dragnet, at least that we know of like above.

    Either way those that want to get the information will prevail regardless with VPNs and what not.

  • @Chrissy Abeysekera

    So then, would you settle for the GOSL to be replaced by a ‘provisional Chinese government??’ 😀

    • Mark O’Doherty

      Sure, a ‘provisional Chinese government’ in Sri Lanka sounds interesting! Let’s give the Chinese a bash at it:)

      • Chrissy Abeysekera

        Oh!Oh! what silly talk is this, fellas? I was only objecting to a juvenile remark by Mark about a ‘provisional Western government’ carrying with it the obvious implication which is both naive and arrogant, that this is a cure for all our ills.

        I do not thnk anyone of us needs diatribes on failed states or that matter, equally juvenile comments that a ‘provisional Chinese government’ is better. I do not intend to waste my time engaging in correspondence on this but let me inform both of you that at appropriate points in time in history, the Sri Lankan voters have kicked power hungry politicans out. The problem now is that civil society and intellectuals are pursuing their own agendas and not engaging in a actual fight against the executive.

        Hiding behind pseudonyms and corresponding on web chatter does’nt achieve much! Ultimately anyway, the people will take matters into their own hands. This is the way that things will change not through provisional Western or Chinese governments. How juvenile these opinions are. No wonder that Colombians have not been able to make even a dent in this government’s thinking. The only time it backed down was when ordinary factory workers in Katunayake went onto the streets. This is a good lesson. And it will happpen again before long while all of you are guzzling beer and chips in a cafe!

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    I totally endorse Chrissy’s views. Talking of a provisional Western government for Sri Lanka is not only naive and/or arrogant. It is also tremendously insensitive. This is the stuff that rabid nationalists feed on to promote their fears and keep this terrible government in place.

    Let us learn some lessons at least now…

    • Mark O’Doherty

      Since it was never my intention to offend anybody, I am hereby officially retracting my earlier comments about ‘provisional governments’ – both westen and chinese – and apologise for any inconvenience my ‘brain storming’ may have caused. However, I do wish to emphasise, that just because I dared to mention the word “western” – which for some Sri Lankan nationalists seems to be the embodiment of the devil himself – does not automatically mean that all of my “western” suggestions are bad. Perhaps that is the problem: the ambivalence about the term “western” itself in Sri Lanka. One the one hand you have organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the UN – both dominated by western nations – and exerting relatively large influence in Sri Lankan affairs and development. And on the other hand you have strong nationalistic tendencies, calling for independence and freedom from western influences. I think these two extremes must still be ballanced out in Sri Lanka, before any kind of genuine democratic consensus on a national level can be found.

      About ordinary factory workers going on to the streets, and demonstrating against the government, you have my fullest support in that. However, from personal experience I know that those guys in the Sri Lankan government play rough ( I myself have been interrogated for two hours when I came to Sri lanka in 2009), so I do not think they would hessitate to use violence in an attempt to crush a civil demonstration of workers. Perhaps a worker’s demonstration against the current Sri Lankan covernment could be organised in conjunction with international organisations and journalists; just to add some morale support.

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    Mark, the issue here is not ‘freedom from western influences’. Rather, it is not blindly advocating’ western governments’ as you initially did. Many of us have been brought up on the intoxicating diets of the great Western civilisations, its thinkers and its poets as much as the Eastern.

    Western ‘influences’ are therefore in many of us. The IMF and the UN are bad examples to cite, by the way as they are almost uniformly disliked and distructed for their ‘politics’. There are much better illustrations of benign Western influences!

    The point is that I think that we have learnt enough to be wary of western government and their agendas. I believe what Chrissy first objected to, was that simplistic use of the term.

    And yes, of course, the government would use force against workers’ movements as they did in re Katunayake incidents. It would be silly to expect otherwise. However, even in rhe face of force, the workers prevailed that day. There will, I am sure, be many more such days!

    • Mark O’Doherty

      Pandukabaya, I was never “blindly advocating western governments”. I was simply refering to the fact, that I – and most of my Sri Lankan friends – perceive this current government in Sri Lanka as a bad joke! And that almost any other government could do a better job. I am sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I am not the only one who thinks that; especially after the circulation of some recent fotos of the Sri Lankan President and his M.P’s in action:)

      Also, it was never my intention to cite the International Monetary Fund and the UN as positive western examples. I was first and foremost refering to the fact that the IMF is exerting relatively large influence in Sri Lankan affairs and development, since it has already loaned almost two billion dollars to the Sri Lankan government – whether this is “good” or “bad”, is not the point.
      The point is that there is an ambivalence about western influences in Sri lanka. Because if the IMF is really so uniformly disliked and distrusted for their ‘politics’, why did not the Sri Lankan government just refuse to take the loan, and send the IMF back home to Washington?
      I think these ambivalences – which are obviously present in Sri Lanka – should be addressed; to outline and reflect upon both good and bad feelings about western influences, and to become aware that often the boundaries between the two are not so clear as we would like them to be.

      Before I end this correspondence I just want to mention, that if you are really serious about going on to the streets and to demonstrate against ‘this terrible government’, I suggest we stop talking about it, and actually start doing it!

      Lets simply put up a date and venue, and just see what happens!
      Like the 10TH OF DECEMBER 2011, at 3 P.M, MEETING POINT AT THE SRI LANKAN PARLIAMENT. Let’s call it the “MARCH AGAINST CENSORSHIP”, or something like that, and disperse the information through web sites, facebook, radio and other media outlets.

      If the civil liberty of ‘Freedom of Assembly’ exists in Sri Lanka, inform the civil authorities through the proper channels. If not, and the Sri Lankan Government is actually “censoring” the human right to Freedom of Assembly as well, all the more reason to do it!

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    Mark, saw this after a break away from all things to do with communication!Lets get one thing clear. Many of us are agreed that this government is a bad joke!Your point about the IMF and the UN is however entirely different. They may exert influence but whether it is for the bad or for the good is quite a seperate matter. Both these two organisations are seriously critiqued by rationalists for their corruption and their agendas, just to mention two issues.

    I am a lawyer practicing in the High Courts of the Sri Lankan South and we have our own community movements here which exert far more influence on the way this government will shortly be brought to a reckoning of its sins than any such Colombian movement that you propose will do. The agitation has already started in quiet village boroughs where ordinary village elders are demanding a change in government policies and justice for people, minority and majority. This will come out in the open at the appropriate time.

    Sorry, branding together with people who seem to understand very little about the condition of countries in which they take a passing interest is just not my cup of tea! Your initial comment about a provisional western government still rings umusically in my ears!And yes, this will indeed be the end to this correspondence!