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Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites: The Continuing Violation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet

Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites: The Continuing Violation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet

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Published by Sanjana Hattotuwa
Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites: The Continuing Violation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet
Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites: The Continuing Violation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet

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Published by: Sanjana Hattotuwa on Apr 05, 2012
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5/4/12 3:56 PMPress statement on Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites in Sri LankaPage 1 of 4http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=746409e6de7b1c2a97474620a&id=3d355741fc&e=96c6f0d929
 Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites: The Continuing Violation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet
Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites: The ContinuingViolation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet
9th November 2011, Colombo, Sri Lanka
: We the undersigned civil society organisationsand individuals express grave concern over the press release issued by the DirectorGeneral of the Department of Government Information on 5th November 2011, whichrequires all ‘websites carrying any content relating to Sri Lanka or the people of SriLanka… uploaded from Sri Lanka or elsewhere’ to ‘register’ for ‘accreditation.’ We alsocondemn the actions of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) that has,according to a Sunday Times news report, moved to block a number of specific websitesin line with this. While it is unclear whether the two measures are part of a singleinitiative or not, they represent an unacceptable incursion into free expression in SriLanka. Websites including www.lankanewsweb.com, www.srilankamirror.com,www.srilankaguardian.org and www.lankawaynews.com were blocked on the day thepress release was issued without any consultation or forewarning, raising concerns aboutthe government’s real objectives and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.We note that the Information Department press release does not state what the processof ‘registration’ will entail and whether any sort of liability or conditions will beimposed. We further note that this move by the government is the first step in therealisation of plans mooted by the TRC in 2010 to draft legislation that would make itcompulsory for news websites to register with the authority. We also have additionalconcerns about the press release. Firstly, the press release does not establish withsufficient clarity the categories of either websites or persons who are required toregister with the Ministry. Secondly, it is not clear whether and how the requirement forregistrationwill apply to international news websites and websites operated by international organisations that publishnews on and in Sri Lanka. Finally, in the interests of transparency, consistency and equal treatment, the Information Departmentand TRC must explain the legal framework and process under which registration of thisnature can be enforced.This requirement of registration coupled with the blocking of websites, whichpotentially constitutes a form of prior-censorship, not only produces a chilling effect on
 
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5/4/12 3:56 PMPress statement on Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites in Sri LankaPage 2 of 4http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=746409e6de7b1c2a97474620a&id=3d355741fc&e=96c6f0d929
the freedoms of expression and information on the Internet, but also constitutes a primafacie violation of a number of constitutionally protected fundamental rights, includingArticle 14(1)(a) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, which guarantees an individual’s rightto freedom of opinion, expression and publication. The obligations of the governmentwith respect to international standards are made clear by Sri Lanka’s ratification of enforceable international legal instruments, which includes the International Covenanton Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Needless to say, these measures also do not meetbroader standards of international best practice as reflected for example in the reportof Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression and Opinionsubmitted to the UNHRC on 16th May 2011. Concerns about defamation and the right to privacy notwithstanding, the governmenthas failed to provide a legitimate rationale for the registration process consistent withthe values of a democratic society or international standards on permissible legalrestrictions on the freedom of expression. While under the law of Sri Lanka there isample scope for legal redress in case of defamation or an invasion of privacy, themeasures the Ministry has taken so far are also inappropriate and disproportionate to itsstated aim of ensuring online media ethics. Furthermore, the practicability of sucharbitrary blocks is questionable. Any attempt to impose widespread blocks on websiteswould lead to an increased interest in them and the use of easily and widely availablecircumvention tools (and proxies) to access these sites.The blocking of websites is unconstitutional, illiberal and technically infeasible. Theconsequence of such arbitrary and extra-legal action is that restrictions are based onthe subjective judgement of government authorities in the protection of narrowpartisan interests, the complete infringement of international freedom of expressionstandards, and the quashing of dissent. We are also concerned about the submissiveacquiescence of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with arbitrary orders issued by thegovernment for the blocking of websites, and remind them that such conformity makesthem complicit in the violation of fundamental rights. We reiterate that the fundamental right to freedom of expression, information andopinion includes wide access to diverse sources of information on the Internet and callupon the government to rescind the requirement of registration contained in its pressrelease.
Signatories:
 1. Anoma Rajakaruna2. Association of War Affected Women3. Cedric de Silva4. Centre for Policy Alternatives5. Chandra Jayaratne
 
5/4/12 3:56 PMPress statement on Arbitrary Blocking and Registration of Websites in Sri LankaPage 3 of 4http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=746409e6de7b1c2a97474620a&id=3d355741fc&e=96c6f0d929
6. Chandragupta Thenuwara7. Chulani Kodikara8. Deanne Uyangoda9. Dr. Devanesan Nesiah10. Dilrukshi Handunnetti11. Emil van der Poorten12. EQUAL GROUND13. Families of the Disappeared14. Floating Space Theatre Company15. Free Media Movement16. Gowthaman Balachandran17. Herman Kumara, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement18. INFORM19. IMADR Asia Committee20. J.C. Weliamuna, Attorney-at-Law21. Jayathilaka Kammallaweera22. Jovita Arulanantham23. Juanita Arulanantham24. K.S. Ratnavale25. Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva26. Kaushalya Attygalle27. Kanishka Ratnapriya28. Lakshman Gunasekara, President, South Asia Free Media Association – Sri LankaChapter29. Lanka Nesiah30. Lal Wijenayake, Attorney-at-Law31. Lawyers for Democracy32. Luwie Ganeshathasan33. Mahendran Thiruvarangan34. Dr. Mario Gomez35. Marisa De Silva36. Mothers and Daughters of Lanka37. Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum38. National Peace Council of Sri Lanka39. Nirmanusan Balasundaram40. Peter Rezel, Management and Development Consultant41. Priya Thangarajah42. Priyadarshanie Ariyaratne, Social Democratic Solidarity43. R.M.B Senanayake44. Right to Life - Human Rights Centre45. Rights Now Collective for Democracy46. Ruki Fernando47. Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran

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