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Sri Lanka rethinks online censorship plan after backlash

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka said yesterday it would amend its strict new Internet censorship law after opposition from global tech giants, who risked criminal prosecutions for content shared on social media.

Information Minister Bandula Gunawardana said Cabinet decided to amend the controversial Online Safety Law, which was rushed through Parliament last month despite vocal opposition.

A new bill would take “into consideration the proposals of experts in the field”, he told reporters in Colombo.

The law as passed makes social media companies liable for any content posted on their platforms deemed offensive by Sri Lankan authorities.

A coalition of international tech companies warned Colombo last month the legislation was “unworkable” and that they would not cooperate with local authorities to implement it.

Opposition lawmakers decried the law as an effort to censor political speech ahead of presidential elections due later this year.

Social media was a key tool used by protesters during Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis in 2022, which caused nationwide demonstrations that compelled then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.

The law mandates prison terms of up to 10 years for executives of social media platforms if their offices fail to disclose user details of those accused of creating posts deemed illegal.

It also makes anonymous and parody social media accounts illegal and applies to users posting from outside the island nation.

Public Security Minister Tiran Alles earlier denied the law would be used to stifle dissent.