Sri Lanka to lift social media ban: minister

From Reuters - March 13, 2018

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka is likely to lift a ban on social media networks this week, a government minister said on Tuesday, almost a week after blocking access to prevent the spread of communal violence.

At least two people were killed in clashes in early March when Sinhalese Buddhists, angered by a killing of a driver, attacked mosques and Muslim-owned properties in the central Kandy district, a popular tourist destination.

Some of the violence was instigated by postings on Facebook threatening more attacks on Muslims, according to the government, which on March 7 cut access to Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp. It initially said the ban would last for three days, but users say the services have remained blocked, indicating that in practice the ban has been extended.

Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has said it was working to identify and remove incitements to violence, and was in contact with the government and private organizations.

Harin Fernando, the telecommunication minister, told reporters that senior Facebook company officials were expected to visit Sri Lanka on Thursday and the government was likely to lift the ban on both Facebook and Whatsapp access.

Once we discuss with the Facebook officials on Thursday, the ban is likely to be lifted on Friday, he said, adding Facebook had beenslow to address the governments concerns.

The government said in a separate statement it would lift the ban on Viber from midnight on Tuesday.

Communal tensions have grown over the past year with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalizing Buddhist archaeological sites. Muslim groups deny these allegations.

Fernando said authorities would closely monitor the networks for any hate speech that could damage ethnic harmony. He said without elaborating that two state-run institutions would be directly working with the Facebook company on the monitoring.

He added that the government could not control hate speech and fake messages on Facebook by bothextreme Buddhists and Muslims and it had become a major menace to national security.



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