Just hours before the results of the Sri Lankan Presidential elections were out, the Lankan government cut off access to independent Sri Lankan news websites such as Lankaenews, Lankanewsweb, Infolanka and Sri Lanka Guardian. Sri Lanka Telecom, the country’s main Internet Service Provider, blocked all news websites within Sri Lanka since the wee hours of January 26, 2010, the day of when Lanka went to polls.
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Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Lankaenews journalist had told Reporters Without Borders that the site had been rendered inaccessible within Sri Lanka since Jan 26 morning by Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), the country’s main ISP. However, the site was accessible from abroad and via a private ISP in Lanka.
“According to a source working for SLT, verbal directives were given to block the site,” the Lankaenews journalist said. “We complained to the electoral commission, which has referred the complaint to the SLT. We also asked the head
of SLT but so far we have not had any answer. Meanwhile, our staff has been getting threatening phone messages with comments such as ‘We are coming to deal with you’.”
The journalist added that he had still received no news of his Lankaenews colleague, political analyst Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been missing since the evening of 24 January. Eknaligoda had just written a long piece comparing the two leading presidential candidates and expressing a preference for the opposition candidate.
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Fellow journalists fear that Eknaligoda’s disappearance is linked to his article. One of his colleagues said he saw police search Eknaligoda’s home this morning.
This latest act of censorship comes after days of all-out exploitation of the state media to support the president’s reelection bid and a wave of threats and intimidation of journalists.
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Condemning the act, Reporters Without Borders said “Such censorship reflects a beleaguered government’s nervousness and readiness to resort to manipulation.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The free flow of news and information during an election offers one of the few guarantees against massive fraud. We urge the government to restore access to these sites as the electoral commission has requested.”
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Last March, Reporters Without Borders added Sri Lanka to its list of “countries under surveillance” because of concern about threats to online free expression. The press freedom organisation publishes a list of “Enemies of the Internet” and “countries under surveillance” every March, on Online Free Expression Day.
Sri Lanka was added to the list because access to Tamil-language sites and the Human Rights Watch website had been blocked, while the Lankadissent site ceased to operate in January 2009 following threats.
Sri lanka Factfile