FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Advice for colleagues on the digital front lines

If you’re running a website that’s come under attack, or is likely to, here is some advice on how to protect yourself.

First, a little background:

On Monday we filed an alert about the Sri Lankan government’s blocking of at least five websites there. The move silenced just about all of the country’s independent online voices. Two websites, Groundviews and its sister Sinhala site Vikalpa, have survived a few temporary takedowns, but for now they seem to be about the last two journalism sites posting independent analyses about Sri Lankan politics that are still up and running.

Sanajana Hatotatuwa is one of the driving forces behind Groundviews and Vikalpa. In addition to overseeing the sites’ editorial content, over the years he’s made himself into something of a digital platform expert. In June he wrote “How to beat a web censor, but how censors could still shut down a site,” which gives very practical, hard-won advice to anyone like him, trying to run a website in a hostile political environment. The piece gets technical, so I checked with Danny O’Brien, CPJ’s Internet advocacy coordinator. He gave Hatotatuwa’s advice his stamp of approval–“Very accurate,” O’Brien called it.

By the way, on Wednesday, the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Sri Lanka’s largest independent think tank, issued a statement expressing concern about Monday’s shutdown, signed by 58 organizations and individuals. They were also worried by a press release issued by the Director General of the Department of Government Information on November 5, which requires, they say,  “all ‘websites carrying any content relating to Sri Lanka or the people of Sri Lanka… uploaded from Sri Lanka or elsewhere’ to ‘register’ for ‘accreditation.'” We’ll leave it to the government to figure out how to enforce such a sweeping regulation. By way of an explanation, Groundviews says CPA is its “institutional anchor

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