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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe unveiling the plaque to open the Isipathana College swimming pool. Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and Principal Hemasiri Epa look on. Picture by Shan Rupassara.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday that the government has no intention of banning Facebook, but certain measures will be taken and laws will be brought to ensure that it does not carry content aimed at disrupting communal and religious harmony.

The laws will provide legal powers to monitor and control social media usage restricting the contents raising communal and religious hatred and disharmony.

Many issues have arisen with the use of Facebook such as spreading fake news and ISIS terrorism propaganda, he said.

Both electronic and print media have to be abide by the laws of the country as well as media ethics. However, as signatories of universal human rights declarations, all countries are bound to respect freedom of expression. But, Facebook, Viber, Whatsapp are not subject to any such laws. Several governments are discussing what can be done to address this issue. On the other hand, there is no control of its use and we must enact laws to control it,”the PM said.

“I have informed the Foreign Affairs Ministry to discuss with representatives of these companies as well as other countries in our region which have the same issues that affected our country, to formulate a mechanism to overcome this problem. We took this decision to protect the country’s peace. We will soon remove the blockade on FB and other social media links.The Premier addressing the gathering after opening of a newly-constructed swimming pool at Isipathana College in Colombo said yesterday.

“We can see positive and negative aspects of the social media through the incidents in Kandy recently. Since a small number of hotels are operated in the Kandy city, people in the area use to rent out rooms of their homes to tourists for profit.The entire Kandy city has shown tremendous progress in tourism thanks to social media such as Facebook, Viber, Whatsapp and other links. The tourism industry in Kandy collapsed due to the ethnic hatred messages prompted by the social media during the riots in Digana and Teldeniya, he said.

“As a responsible government, we have a duty to take appropriate action in this regard. We did not want to ban social media. But there should be a mechanism to supervise these networks. We have also earlier informed the FB regarding these kind of activities, but they were slow to respond. However, a representative from FB will arrive in the country today to discuss these issues. In addition to this, we are discussing to formulate a mechanism to prevent the spreading of communal and religious hatred and disharmony. Both Law and Order Ministry and the Attorney General’s Department are working together to bring in new laws in this regard.

Currently, the UK has laws to curb spreading of communal and religious hatred. No one can create communal or religious hatred and disharmony. At the moment we are following international civil rights laws in addition to the normal laws in the country. Currently Germany, UK and Kenya has passed laws in controlling the social media.

“I was instrumental in introducing Internet to Sri Lankans in 1993.I signed an agreement with former US Vice President Al Gore, when I was the Prime Minister then to bring internet to Sri Lanka. There are positive aspects of the social media which directly affect our economy, education communication and tourism. But on the other hand it has negative effects like spreading religious and communal disharmony creating violence and riots among the communities.

On the instructions of the Security Forces, we had to block the social media because they were spreading hate speech and amplifying them.” False reports of ethnically motivated attacks circulating on the network has resulted in retaliatory violence.If we had not taken such measures the, the situation would have been worse. Due to this urgent measure, we have been able to lift the curfew within a short period,” he added.

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said measures have been taken to construct swimming pools in many schools out of Colombo during the past three years. Extra-curricular activities like swimming enables in developing balanced personality and minds of children. The old boys association of the Isipathana College had contributed for the project by allocating Rs.30 million.