Internet Media Action (IMA) Statement on Internet, web and social media disruption during peoples’ protest on 9 July 2022
12th July, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Internet Media Action (IMA) firmly believes that peaceful protest is a fundamental right and an integral part of a democratic nation. As tens of thousands of civilians flocked to Galle Face in Colombo on the 9 July 2022, from across the island, calling for the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, many experienced significant disruptions to web and Internet services. As a result, those who were part of the protest movement in Colombo experienced difficulties in communication including using social media, such as sharing live videos, uploading pictures, videos and updates.
IMA is aware that network saturation brought about by unprecedented demands on telcos infrastructure in areas with the greatest density of protestors would have contributed to these disruptions. We believe that anticipating for surge demand on infrastructure, based on widely shared information and media coverage about the protests for weeks prior to 9 July, Sri Lankan telcos could have better planned for uninterrupted communications, and data throughput.
We are more concerned about alleged attempt at sending a letter to telcos to restrict services only to voice communications, cutting off all data. We are aware of instances where signal jammers were used to disrupt communications during mass protests since March 2022.. IMA believes a context allowing for network disruptions because of high saturation, leading to cascading effects including the disruption of data communications, was created deliberately to undermine the right to freedom of expression, right to assembly and association, the right to information, and the right to political and public participation, which constitutionally guaranteed and of crucial importance to bear witness to, know about, and engage with the socio-political developments in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan state, and the Rajapaksa government have a long, blemished record of officially disrupting internet, web and social media, including as recently as a few months ago, in addition to unlawful, unofficial edicts and directives to telcos. Disruptions to communications, restricting the freedom of expression also impedes the production and distribution of life-saving information, in a context where the military opened fire using live ammunition against unarmed protestors. It is not just the mobilization that is affected, but acts of journalism by protestors, mainstream media coverage, and urgent updates that provide information on areas to avoid, or where urgent medical attention is needed. We reiterate that unfettered access to internet, web and social media are integral to and inextricably entwined with Sri Lanka’s social, political, economic, cultural life, and developments, offline. There is a growing international recognition of digital rights as human rights. As noted in the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan's report to the General Assembly on 20 April 2022 , “Any restriction of freedom of expression should adhere strictly to the requirements of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimate aim set out in article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and acknowledge the public interest role of journalists.” IMA calls on relevant authorities and the government to ensure that fundamental rights of speech and dissent are preserved, promoted and protected. The laws of the land should be observed and implemented without violating the rights of the people, especially at a historic moment with citizens mobilizing to more fully realize Sri Lanka’s democratic potential.
Convener | Internet Media Action[IMA]