The Sri Lankan government on Saturday blocked social media sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter amid protests in response to a major economic crisis, the BBC reported.

Several mobile phone users received messages stating that WhatsApp was down “as directed by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission”.

The commission stated that it restricted access to social media platforms in response to a request by the country’s defence ministry, according to Daily Mirror.

Several people in Sri Lanka said that social media platforms had been blocked, and that many people were accessing them through virtual private networks, or VPNs.

NetBlocks, a global internet watchdog that tracks shutdowns, also cited real-time network data to show that the country had restricted access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram, among other platforms, after midnight on April 3.

On Saturday, Sri Lanka declared a 36-hour nationwide curfew from Saturday 6 pm to Monday 6 am amid a series of protests over the island country’s worst economic meltdown since its independence. During the curfew, Sri Lankans are not allowed to step out of homes, except for essential services.

Earlier, some people on social media had urged people to take part in protests on Sunday.

On Friday, citizens had staged protests in Colombo as well as different parts of the country demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation over the government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis.

Economic crisis in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is facing the economic crisis as its foreign reserves have hit rock bottom. The country had declared an economic emergency in August. Sri Lankans are now facing shortages of petrol, diesel, milk powder, cooking gas, kerosene and other essential items.

Authorities have imposed 13-hour daily power cuts from Thursday due to shortage of fuel. The state electricity regulator extended Wednesday’s 10-hour power cut by another three hours.

Government-run hospitals are running out of life-saving medicines due to a shortage of foreign exchange needed for imports. Several state-run hospitals have stopped conducting surgeries too.

On March 30, the Sri Lankan government imposed 10-hour daily power cuts across the country. Since the beginning of March, there had already been seven-hour power cuts in the island country. The duration was subsequently increased by three hours.