The government has come under fire for blocking five news websites in what media groups and rights activists say is yet another blow against press freedoms in the country.
The five websites, which have been critical of the government in the past, were blocked earlier this week by the ministry of media and information (MMI) which has also decreed that websites carrying any news relating to Sri Lanka need to be registered with the ministry.
The move comes just days after the US expressed concern over press freedom in Sri Lanka.
The government, however, claims the websites were blocked for insulting and defaming public figures.
The websites blocked include Lankaenews.com, and lankawaynews.com, the official website of the main opposition party.
Media rights groups called the measure undemocratic and said many press offices are being closely watched by government agencies.
“This is futile and undemocratic as modern information technology has the capability of getting round this censorship,” said Sunil Jayasekara, convener of the Free Media Movement in a statement on Monday.
“Citizens have the right to access all information,” he said.
Father Sagara Hettiarachchi, editor of the Catholic weekly Gnanartha Pradeepaya (Wisdom of Light), said the government action is not acceptable.
“It’s a violation of peoples’ right to access information that affects them,” he said.
“The government should be looking at sites which stoke conflict between religions and ethnic groups,” he added.
The government says however, its action is an attempt to ensure ethics in the media are adhered to following complaints that defamatory articles were being published on the five websites.
On Sunday, W.B. Ganegala, secretary at the MMI, said the five websites were publishing reports that amounted to character assassination and violated individual privacy.