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Sri Lanka refuses to lift ban on Facebook

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by: Agence France-Presse

Facebook will remain blocked in Sri Lanka until it agrees to take quicker action over incendiary material, authorities said Tuesday, after the social network was banned across the island during a week of violent riots.

The block was imposed after police warned that online hate speech was whipping up anti-Muslim anger in last week’s unrest, which saw mosques and Muslim businesses burned, mainly in central Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s government declared a state of emergency and deployed the army to the riot-plagued region to contain the crisis that left at least three people dead.

Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando said Tuesday that the government wanted assurances Facebook could respond more rapidly in future if similar concerns were raised.

“Facebook has told us that they lack the resources to review our complaints,” he told reporters in Colombo.

“They had a practical problem. They had only two resource persons” to review content in Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka’s majority ethnic group behind the violence.

It was hoped an agreement with Facebook could be reached by Friday and the block preventing 6.2 million Sri Lankans from accessing the social network lifted, he added.

Internet services were suspended entirely in Kandy, the worst-hit central district, for several days as authorities sought to disrupt riots, with mobs using social networks to coordinate attacks.

Muslims make up 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people. Most are Sinhalese, a largely Buddhist ethnic group.

Censorship and media oppression was used widely by strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse, who for a decade in power ordered local internet providers to block anti-government sentiment online.

His successor President Maithripala Sirisena was elected in 2015 promising an end to draconian government restrictions, but some websites critical of the government were blocked even before the ban on Facebook.