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REGIONS:

Web censorship targeting critical voices

(IFJ/IFEX) - November 8, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the new registration rules introduced by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) for websites hosting any manner of content on the country, which has led to the blocking of several websites for internet users in Sri Lanka. These include Lanka News Web, Sri Lanka Mirror, Sri Lanka Guardian and Lanka Way News.

This latest move follows the persistent curbs imposed on Lanka-e-News, another website that had a wide audience within the country and has been repeatedly targeted in recent times, including in an arson attack in January this year.

An official of Sri Lanka's Media Ministry has been quoted saying that the most recent curbs on websites were ordered because these had persistently been engaged in "character assassination" of the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

"We call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to reconsider this move, in light of recent calls for greater access to information online made in the 2011 report of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"The IFJ believes Sri Lanka's post-conflict reconciliation would be best served by having a variety of opinions expressed, so that no section of the country has any cause to believe that it is being left out or left behind."

La Rue's report to the UN General Assembly called upon states to "ensure that everyone enjoys his or her right to freedom of opinion and expression by maintaining free flow of information on the Internet, and ensuring that the Internet is available, accessible and affordable to all."

The GoSL's record of web censorship stretches back to 2007, when Tamilnet, a website that speaks for and represents certain viewpoints of the country's Tamil minority was blocked. In August this year, award-winning citizen journalism website Groundviews and its Sinhala-language equivalent Vikapla were also temporarily blocked.

Observers in Sri Lanka have pointed out that this manner of censorship is ultimately quite futile since the websites continue to be available through proxy services such as TOR Browser Bundle.
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