For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
(AFP) Sri Lanka on Saturday warned websites to register with the authorities after the United States expressed deep concern over Colombo’s blocking of a popular Internet-based dissident publication.
The Ministry of Mass Media and Information said many reports posted on dissident websites amounted to character assassination of President Mahinda Rajapakse, his ministers and top officials.
“This ministry believes that those who are operating and maintaining these clandestine websites have been doing so to discredit the government, the head of state,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Such slanderous publications should not only be discouraged but also acts of this nature would have to be effectively prevented in the interest of the general public.”
It said the websites should register with the ministry at the earliest, but did not say which laws were being used against dissident websites. It did not specify penalties for those who fail to comply.
However, the statement came four days after the US embassy in Colombo said that freedom of expression, including unfettered access to Internet news websites, was a basic right which must be respected by Sri Lankan authorities.
“We… call on the Sri Lankan authorities and the managements of Sri Lankan telecommunications firms to stop activities aimed at blocking free access in Sri Lanka to all legitimate media websites,” the embassy said.
Sri Lanka began web censorship in June 2007 with the blocking of the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website at a time when security forces stepped up their attacks against the rebels who were eventually defeated by May 2009.
However, since then many website which are openly anti-government have been blocked by Sri Lankan authorities.
Rights groups have repeatedly accused the government of stifling media freedoms, a charge denied by the authorities.