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UK Ambassador discusses ‘online harms’ with Namal Rajapaksa

Earlier this week, Britain’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton, meet with Sri Lanka’s Minister for Youth and Sports, Namal Rajapaksa, where they reportedly discussed “online harms facing women, girls and vulnerable groups, human rights issues, and youth and sport opportunities”.

This meeting follows the British Foreign Office’s published review of their Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) which assigned £10.75 million pounds to Sri Lanka from April 2019 to March 2022. The funding has been established to support “peacebuilding, de-mining, policing, defence, corruption and cross-party reconciliation”.

 

Online censorship

In April, Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister, Ali Sabry, has announced plans for new legislation in Sri Lanka to curb speech on social media under claims of tackling “fake news”.

Speaking to the media, Sabry maintained that there must be limits on the freedoms that could be exercised and maintained that restrictions on speech should be in place with respects to “national security, reconciliation and development, refraining from destroying the name of the country and defaming individuals”.

Responding to the increasing crackdown on civil society actors and journalists in Sri Lanka, the EU parliament passed a resolution condemning Sri Lanka’s draconian attacks and calling on the Government of Sri Lanka to “refrain from using allegations of “terrorist financing” to deny civil society organizations access to legitimate sources of funding”. The resolution follows a wide-reaching prohibition of several Tamil diaspora and Muslim organisations, as well as hundreds of individuals, which were dedicated to campaigning for human rights.

Read more here: Social Media Platforms are Silencing Social Movements

 

CSSF

Funding for the CSSF has garnered significant scepticism with journalist Mark Curtis highlighting that funding for Sri Lanka’s military and police under the auspices of training that “respects human rights”. Despite receiving this funding and training, torture by Sri Lanka’s security forces remains an endemic issue.

In 2017, UN special rapporteur, Ben Emmerson, stated “the use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds. Since the authorities use this legislation disproportionately against members of the Tamil community, it is this community that has borne the brunt of the state’s well-oiled torture apparatus.”

According to the International Truth and Justice Project, there have been 178 documented credible cases of torture from 2015-2018, excluding 22 individuals abroad who reported torture following the UN special investigation. Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in late 2019, at least 5 cases have been documented abroad of abduction, torture, and sexual violence of Tamils. The ITJP notes, "this likely represents the tip of the iceberg".

Despite ongoing violations, the Foreign Office reported that:

“Progress was made towards outcomes of promoting more capable and fairer justice institutions, as well as improving post-conflict community relationships.  Good results were achieved through support for parliamentary cooperation, community policing and defence training, and demining and resettlement activities.  However, wider changes in the context limited full achievement of the milestones set at the beginning of this period”.

Read more here.

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