Citing the deadly dangers of lies and the noise of false rumors, Sri Lanka has instated an emergency lockdown as they begin to track down the international network responsible for a deadly Easter morning attack.
Reuters has reported via HuffPost that 290 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded when suicide bombs and other detonation devices went off in Churches and various hotels around the capital of Colombo. Sri Lankans made up most of the dead and injured, but “least 32 foreigners were killed, including British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals,” Reuters reports.
The emergency law now being implemented authorizes military officials and the police to keep suspects in custody and question them without court orders, among other provisions. The order also created a civilian curfew and has shut down use of social media sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp.
It’s not unprecedented for a government to block access to portions of the internet. According to TechCrunch, in recent years Iran and Turkey have also responded to demonstrations and political agitation by preventing their citizens from using social media. The Sri Lankan government has been particularly outspoken about their disdain for Facebook and other sites for (among other things) giving a platform to hatred, as well as their ability to spread rampant lies and misinformation that has endangered and taken the lives of many. Increases in hatred and anti-Muslim violence in the country were said to have been prompted by propaganda on the Facebook platform. The social media giant has been accused of not doing enough to ensure public safety, even after countless requests to address the issue.
Sri Lanka’s move to shut down social media has been met by criticism that the government is infringing on free speech, and hindering people’s ability to reach loved ones during emergency. But officials say the blackout is to prevent the spread of fake news, which is particularly crucial at this time of fact-finding. It seems the intent is to kill the noise of rumor so the truth can be heard, loud and clear.
One truth that has been clear in these first hours since the deadly attack is that the human race, transcending separations of religion, is responding with strength, compassion and right action.
This morning Sri Lankan recording artist/activist M.I.A took to Twitter to voice her thoughts, saying the empathy being shown to her homeland is “inspiring.”
As the country continues its detailed process of finding the authorities behind this heinous attack, Cabinet spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne confirmed that the attacks were connected to an “international network” but did not offer any details.
“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said the government is seeking foreign assistance to pinpoint the international links.
Correction: Sept. 21, 2019, 3:58 p.m. ET: This story has been edited to remove unattributed text and to add fuller sourcing.