Posted by: lrrp | June 28, 2007

Sri Lanka under fire over Internet censorship

COLOMBO (AFP) – Media rights groups attacked Sri Lanka’s government Thursday for blocking domestic access to a website favouring the Tamil Tiger rebels and for saying it would like hackers to disable the site.

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Colombo should immediately unblock the Tamilnet.com website.

“Sri Lanka’s Internet service providers have been blocking access to the website on the government’s orders since June 15,” RSF said. “The government must put a stop to this censorship and restore access to the site at once.”

A local rights group, the Free Media Movement (FMM), also criticised government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella over comments in which he said he would “love” to hire hackers to pull down Tamilnet.

The FMM said Rambukwellas statement was “tantamount to government sanctioned cyber-terrorism against websites that do not toe its line.”

“The FMM seeks urgent clarification from the government as to whether Minister Rambukwellas comments are indicative of official government policy to shutdown, disrupt or censor content and websites on the Internet.”

But Sri Lanka’s Media Minister Anura Yapa insisted his ministry had nothing to do with preventing users of Sri Lanka Telecom, the country’s main Internet service provider, accessing Tamilnet.

“It is unreasonable to level charges against the government,” Yapa told reporters here. “We have nothing to do with this.”

Military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said the security forces had not ordered the blocking of Tamilnet either.

“Security forces have not asked the Tamilnet to be blocked,” Samarasinghe said.

Despite the denials, Sri Lanka Telecom’s Internet service help desk told callers that the “government has asked to block Tamilnet.”

“You can access any other site, but you can’t access Tamilnet,” callers are being told.

The government owns just under 50 percent of Sri Lanka Telecom, which is run by NTT of Japan.

A Colombo-based editor of Tamilnet, Dharmaratnam Sivaram, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in April 2005. The killing remains unresolved.

Some Internet service providers, who have their main offices abroad, still allow access to the website.

Tamilnet is an influential source of Tamil views on the island’s separatist conflict, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives in a 35-year campaign by rebels for a separate homeland for minority Tamils.


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