The Sri Lankan Cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal to introduce five-year jail terms and a penalty for people who spread fake news and hate speech on social media, local news website Ada Derana reported. Offenders will be fined one million Sri Lankan rupees (approximately Rs 4 lakh).
The proposal follows the increase in vitriol and disinformation since the Easter Sunday suicide attacks. More than 250 people were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks in April, in which three churches and three luxury hotels were targeted. The Sri Lanka Police have arrested more than 1,000 people since then. Police officials say that all those responsible for the blasts have either been killed or arrested.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the serial blasts but Sri Lankan investigators have blamed the National Thowheed Jamath for the attacks.
In March 2018, Sri Lanka had blocked Facebook for over a week in response to online vitriol that led to deadly clashes between Buddhist extremists and Muslims. Triggered in part by hate-filled posts spread by nationalistic Sinhala Buddhist Facebook groups, these riots resulted in the death of three people and the destruction of many buildings. More than 300 people were arrested. The ban was lifted only after representatives from Facebook met government officials and assured them that the platform would not be used for hate speech and incitement of violence anymore.