Colombo, Apr 3 (EFE).- Sri Lanka’s defence ministry has blocked the access to social media across the country during a 36 hour curfew while law enforcement police authorities said they had arrested 664 curfew violators in 8 hours through Sunday morning.
Sri Lanka president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has imposed curfew after declaring a state of emergency in a bid to control protests planned for Sunday, which were organized on social media.
“As directed by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL), access to Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, WhatsApp, Viber, Twitter, IMO, Instagram, Telegram, Snapchat, and TikTok is restricted with immediate effect until further notice,” the island nation’s largest mobile operator, Dialog Telecom said.
Journalists and activists told Efe that they have started to use virtual private networks (VPN) to access social media platforms blocked by the government.
The president’s move for emergency declaration and curfew came after hundreds of protestors near his private residence demanded him to step down over the ongoing economic crisis.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd before arresting 53 people. Already 47 people have been granted bail.
The protests started early last month after the public were forced to wait in queues for cooking gas, fuel, and milk powder and suffer of long power cuts due to lack of fuel as the country is facing a severe dollar shortage.
People in Maharagama, a suburb of the capital Colombo, demanded food citing that they did not have anything to eat as there was no cooking gas and no shops opened.
“We have no way to have food,” said a participant at the protest which was aired live via Facebook.
Supporters of main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) staged a protest near the country’s historic independence square despite police blocking them, a Facebook live telecasted video showed.
“Aren’t you ashamed to protect this government? You all are there to protect the public, not the thieves in a nonsense curfew,” SJB legislator Rajitha Senaratne told the police who blocked them.
Legislators from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna themselves criticised the government for the social media ban.
“I will never condone the blocking of social media. The availability of VPN, just like I’m using now, makes such bans completely useless. I urge the authorities to think more progressively and reconsider this decision,” sports minister Namal Rajapaksa, who is the nephew of president Rajapaksa, said in his twitter feed.
Police said from 10pm on April 2 to 6am hours April 3, 664 curfew breakers were arrested in the Western province alone.EFE