A media rights group has filed a court challenge over the Sri Lankan government's blocking of five news websites for content that was deemed insulting, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The local Free Media Movement filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court on Monday on the basis that the blockade breaches the people's right to information and freedom of expression, the group's convener, Sunil Jayasekara, said.
The Information and Media Ministry ordered the sites blocked last month, saying they committed character assassination and insulted people including key political leaders.
Rights groups criticized the move as undemocratic. Sri Lankan laws do not restrict the press from criticizing leaders, but media can be charged for defamation.
The ministry has also asked websites to register, a new requirement for websites, while older media formats such as newspapers, radio and television already have to register before they start opertating.
Of the five sites, lankaenews is highly critical of the government and has been blocked once previously and been subjected to violence and threats. A columnist for the website has been missing for nearly two years and is believed to have been abducted. Its office was set on fire earlier this year and lankaenews blamed the government for the attack.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo has called on Sri Lankan authorities and telecommunications firms "to stop activities aimed at blocking free access in Sri Lanka to all legitimate media websites, including Lanka-e-News."
Reporters Without Borders said it was appalled by Sri Lanka's decision to block the sites and urged it be lifted and the new registration requirement rescinded. It also called on commercial telecom companies to stop blocking sites at the government's behest.