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Sri Lanka is a relatively small Asian island nation with a population of around 21.4 million people. It is considered to have low poverty levels compared to neighboring nations. Access to the internet is pretty good with around 32.1% of people able to connect to the web. A monthly connection to the internet costs around $14.50, which puts Sri Lanka among the cheapest retail tariffs worldwide.
Sri Lanka has traditionally enforced severe censorship levels – stretching back to the 1980s when the government suppressed the JVP insurrection using media censorship, criminal defamation, and assassinations.
Sri Lanka is considered a semi-presidential representative democratic republic. In such a system, the president is both the head of state and the head of government. Executive power is held by the government, and legislative power is split between the government and parliament.
The nation is still recovering from a brutal civil war that spanned from 1983 until 2009. During that time, two parties dominated the South Asian country’s politics – the socialist Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the conservative United National Party.
Although the nation has been relatively stable since the end of the Civil War, it is still rated poorly on the world bank’s political stability index with an average score of -0.98 for the period stretching from 1996 to 2017.
In the last two years, the country has experienced renewed political turmoil. Most notably, in 2018 President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.
A month later parliament held a vote of no confidence against Rajapaksa, and in November Sirisena’s attempts to dissolve parliament – with calls for a snap election – were deemed unconstitutional. Seven weeks later, in December, Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party was reinstated as prime minister by the president following two votes in parliament.
Despite the relatively quick turnaround to the political crisis, the situation in the region remains fragile. Trust in President Sirisena is low following the attempted power grab. On the other hand, the seven-week crisis proved that the nation’s parliamentary institutions work better than expected.
Despite this, the unstable political situation could cause a depreciation in the value of the rupee against the US dollar. This problematic economic footing could lead to a deterioration of Sri Lanka’s political environment.
In March 2018, a state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka following severe clashes between local Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim populations. The Sri Lankan anti-Muslim riots started in the town of Ampara and spread to the city of Kandy in the center of the island nation. Properties were burned down in Muslim districts after a Sinhalese truck driver was killed by four Muslim youths. A 27-year-old imam called Abdul Basith burned to death in those fires.
During and following the riots, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were restricted by ISPs. In addition, messengers such as WhatsApp and Viber were blocked. According to the government, those blocks were enforced in an attempt to quell rampant hate speech. According to the government, false reports of ethnically motivated attacks spread via social media were used to inflame the situation.
In October, another severe crackdown on internet access occurred. Following president Sirisena’s sacking of PM Wickremesinghe in October, human rights activists and citizens took to the street in protest. Social media and messengers were again targeted in an attempt to stop protesters from communicating and organizing themselves. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission was also ordered to force mobile operators to restrict 3G and 4G connectivity in the Kandy district.
The temporary blackouts are in addition to ongoing censorship of any internet content considered politically or religiously incompatible in the nation. According to a local report, 14 websites were added to the block list since 2015. Websites and news sources critical of the presidency are restricted.
Websites containing pornography are also restricted within the nation, and the Cyber Crimes Division has the power to investigate and issue blocks on websites found to contain illegal or defamatory content or political news.
In June 2018, Facebook met with Sri Lankan authorities and agreed to work harder to improve its language capabilities for moderation of Sri Lankan content. It is hoped that this will lower the frequency of hate speech on the platform and lower the chances of future social media blackouts.
In 2018, a new electronic national identity card was introduced. The e-NIC Project has massively raised privacy concern within the nation. Privacy experts in the nation have complained that a central database containing sensitive private information and biometric data is at huge risk of hacking. The database is also criticized for holding family tree data.
Access to public WiFi in the nation requires the input of citizens’ national identity card number. This allows the government to track people’s internet habits.
News websites are also heavily regulated, with all content providers forced to give the name of the server IP addresses, and location from which their content is uploaded. This stops journalists and bloggers from uploading content anonymously and successfully silences dissenting political opinions in a country where violent oppression already severely hampers freedom of speech.
All telecommunications companies in Sri Lanka must adhere to requests from the government. Records can be accessed without warrants, and the legislature does not require for targets to be informed. The result is that there are no records of the number of requests made.
During 2018, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace interviewed 27 individuals in the north of Sri Lanka. In the report, details about excessive surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by state security agencies are included.
Sri Lanka’s copyright laws are largely governed by the policy of fair use. It permits for works to be disseminated and used for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. Computer programs, as well as original intellectual creation in the literary, artistic and scientific domains, are all protected under Sri Lankan laws.
It is worth noting that while torrenting is legal in the country, piracy is not. However, it would appear that ISPs and the authorities do not spend time or effort policing copyright restrictions, meaning that there are very little in the way of deterrents for piracy. It would appear that software piracy is more closely monitored. With reports of both fines and imprisonment for large-scale copyright infringements reported in 2008.