Sri Lanka abusing UN law to make arrests: rights group

Anti-Muslim riots broke out after the April 21 attacks that killed hundreds. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019

Sri Lanka abusing UN law to make arrests: rights group

  • Police attempted to arrest a journalist for his writing on anti-Muslim riots and Buddhist extremists using the UN-backed law
  • Police have also drawn criticism over the detention of a Muslim woman during anti-Muslim riots last month

COLOMBO: Media activists on Monday accused Sri Lankan police of using a UN convention on hate speech to crack down on media freedom and the country’s Muslim minority.
The Free Media Movement rights group said the police Special Task Force (STF) attempted to arrest a respected journalist for his writing on anti-Muslim riots and Buddhist extremists using the UN-backed law.
The STF told a magistrate on Friday they were pursuing freelance writer Kusal Perera under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act.
“The Free Media Movement strongly condemns the attempts to pursue legal action under the provisions of the ICCPR Act and urges all responsible stakeholders to draw their attention to avoid using the law unfairly,” the group said.
Police have also drawn criticism over the detention of a Muslim woman during anti-Muslim riots last month. She was wearing a T-shirt with a print of a ship’s steering wheel which police mistook for the Dharma Chakra, a Buddhist symbol.
The woman was held in remand custody for three weeks before a senior police officer intervened to press for her release.
Award winning author and poet Shakthika Sathkumara has been held since April under the ICCPR act for his work hinting at homosexuality among the Buddhist clergy.
A senior police source told AFP separate investigations had been launched into the three cases.
“We feel that police exceeded their authority in using the ICCPR and we will take action against those responsible,” the officer said, asking not to be named.
The leftist People’s Liberation Front (JVP) party said police have arbitrarily detained several Muslim men and women since the Easter Sunday attacks that killed 258 people.
The suicide bombings on three churches and three hotels were blamed on local Muslim militants.
Anti-Muslim riots after the April 21 bombings left one Muslim man dead and hundreds of Muslim-owned businesses, homes, vehicles and mosques wrecked.
Sri Lankan authorities are very sensitive to perceived insults to Buddhism, the majority religion.
However Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court in 2017 awarded 900,000 rupees ($5,000) in damages to a woman who police detained for four days for having a Buddha tattooed on her arm.


Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

Updated 20 August 2019

Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

  • Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong
  • An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong

WASHINGTON: Twitter said Monday it has suspended more than 200,000 accounts that it believes were part of a Chinese government influence campaign targeting the protest movement in Hong Kong.
The company also said it will ban ads from state-backed media companies, expanding a prohibition it first applied in 2017 to two Russian entities.
Both measures are part of what a senior company official portrayed in an interview as a broader effort to curb malicious political activity on a popular platform that has been criticized for enabling election interference around the world and for accepting money for ads that amount to propaganda by state-run media organizations.
The accounts were suspended for violating the social networking platform’s terms of service and “because we think this is not how people can come to Twitter to get informed,” the official said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the Chinese activity was reported to the FBI, which investigated Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election through social media.
After being notified by Twitter and conducting its own investigation, Facebook said Monday that it has also removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts, including some portraying protesters as cockroaches and terrorists.
Facebook, which is more widely used in Hong Kong, does not release the data on such state-backed influence operations.
Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets since early June calling for full democracy and an inquiry into what they say is police violence against protesters.
Though Twitter is banned in China, it is available in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region.
The Chinese language account, @HKpoliticalnew, and the English account, @ctcc507, pushed tweets depicting protesters as violent criminals in a campaign aimed at influencing public opinion around the world. One of those accounts was tied to a suspended Facebook account that went by the same moniker: HKpoliticalnew.
An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong by undermining the protest movement’s legitimacy and political positions.
About 200,000 more automated Twitter accounts amplified the messages, engaging with the core accounts in the network. Few tweeted more than once, the official said, mostly because Twitter quickly caught many of them.
The Twitter official said the investigation remains ongoing and there could be further disclosures.
The Twitter campaign reflects the fact that the Chinese government has studied the role of social media in mass movements and fears the Hong Kong protests could spark wider unrest, said James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is standard Chinese practice domestically, and we know that after 2016 they studied what the Russians did in the US carefully,” Lewis said. “So it sounds like this is the first time they’re deploying their new toy.”
Twitter has sought to more aggressively monitor its network for malicious political activity since the 2016 presidential election and to be more transparent about its investigations, publicly releasing such data about state-backed influence operations since October so others can evaluate it, the official said.
“We’re not only telling the public this happened, we’re also putting the data out there so people can study it for themselves,” the official said.
As for state-backed media organizations, they are still allowed to use Twitter, but are no longer allowed to pay for ads, which show up regardless of whether you have elected to follow the group’s tweet.
Twitter declined to provide a list of what it considers state-backed media organizations, but a representative said it may consider doing so in the future. In 2017, Twitter specifically announced it would ban Russia-based RT and Sputnik from advertising on its platform.