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US Raises Concern With Sri Lanka Leader On Social Media Law

The United States on Tuesday pressed Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to address concerns over a strict new internet censorship law that has alarmed tech companies.

Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), raised the issue during a virtual meeting with Wickremesinghe in which she also voiced US readiness to help address economic challenges on the island, a closer partner of China in recent years.

Power “highlighted strong US support for freedom of expression and association,” USAID said in a statement.

She “encouraged President Wickremesinghe to address concerns about the potential impact of the Online Safety Act on freedom of expression, as well as investment in Sri Lanka’s vibrant digital economy.”

The law passed last month would make social media companies liable for any content posted on their platforms deemed offensive by Sri Lankan authorities, with prison terms of up to 10 years for tech executives who fail to disclose details of users found to be in violation.

Tech companies had warned that the law is unworkable and that they would not implement it, while opposition lawmakers decried what they saw as an attempt to censor political speech ahead of presidential elections later this year.

Information Minister Bandula Gunawardana earlier Tuesday said that the government would revisit the law after considering proposals from experts.

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

The International Monetary Fund in December revived a $2.9 billion bailout for Sri Lanka after Colombo reached a debt restructuring deal with China, its biggest official lender.

Source: Barron’s