This morning Instagram disabled Tamil Guardian’s page without any prior warning or explanation, a move that amounts to a dangerous and unwarranted form of online censorship.
The Tamil Guardian is the only major English language website that reports on Tamil affairs, providing leading coverage directly from the Tamil homeland, across Sri Lanka and the world. Our reporting has been crucial, breaking stories from the North-East and covering a conflict that often does not make it into the mainstream English-language press. Our readership spans across the globe with tens of thousands of website hits and millions of impressions across our social media platforms every month. Our various platforms have been read by policy makers and officials around the world since the newspaper’s establishment in 1998, with op-ed pieces and interviews from figures such as an Oscar-nominated artist to a sitting British prime minister.
The disabling of our Instagram page, which comes despite efforts to reach out to Facebook and Instagram, is a massive blow to our reporting and one that effectively silences our work on a large platform. An audience of over 19,000 followers will no longer be able to follow our coverage on Instagram. This is unacceptable.
The removal of our Instagram page follows a campaign of censorship of our posts on Instagram and Facebook. In recent years, content on our social media platforms has been removed for supposedly violating Facebook’s community guidelines. News articles covering events on the island, historical photographs documenting Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict and even political artwork have all faced removal. Other Tamil nationalist content and accounts have also faced similar hurdles.
This comes despite the Tamil Guardian continuing to post freely on Twitter, where we are a verified account, and other platforms, with content never having been flagged or removed elsewhere. The newspaper has also never been accused of breaching any laws in the United Kingdom with regards to proscribed terrorist organisations or concerns ever having been raised by British authorities. We have functioned freely on other platforms, despite the efforts of the Sri Lankan state to stop us.
Despite our efforts to reach out to Facebook and Instagram directly, through meetings and emails with their representatives and through their online tools, we have been met with silence.
For many of our stories, our correspondents based in the North-East brave harassment and reprisals from the Sri Lankan security forces to bring crucial insight to the plight of the Tamil people. Our journalists have faced beatings, interrogations and have even been forced to leave the island in the line of their work. Now, Instagram’s broad and blunt censorship has effectively strengthened the Sri Lankan state’s repressive approach to clamping down on freedom of expression. Facebook and Instagram are pandering to an authoritarian state.
We call on Facebook, which owns Instagram, to immediately reinstate our account and provide a full explanation as to why it was disabled. We also call for a re-examination of any and all policies that have led to the censorship and silencing of our work and other Tamil voices on their platforms.
We stand in support of a media environment free from repression and censorship.