Honiara, Solomon Islands:
Solomon Islands plans to ban Facebook after the government received heavy criticism on the social media platform, sparking outrage from rights groups and opposition figures in the Pacific island nation.
Communication Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka drew up plans for a temporary ban this week and discussions are underway with internet service providers on how to implement it, the Solomon Times reported.
“Abusive language against ministers, the Prime Minister (Manasseh Sogavare), assassination of a character, defamation of character, so many subjects of concern,” he told the publication.
Sogavare’s office did not respond to questions about the government’s plans, which Opposition Leader Matthew Wale said would represent unwarranted censorship.
“Social media, especially Facebook, has been a key platform for the free exchange of views among citizens,” Wale told AFP.
“There are no sufficiently significant grounds to justify a ban on Facebook or social media at this time – vibrant and engaged citizenship is essential for responsible government.”
Facebook is widely used in the Solomons, where the population of 700,000 is spread across rugged volcanic islands and coral atolls, making other forms of communication difficult.
Sogavare himself regularly uses the platform to disseminate government messages, including updates on Covid-19 infection numbers.
Facebook said it was “reaching out” to the Solomons government over the plan.
“This decision will impact thousands of people in the Solomon Islands who use our services to connect and engage in important discussions across the Pacific,” he said in a statement.
‘Blatant attack on human rights’
Amnesty International said interfering with a vital information source during a global pandemic could cost lives and urged the government to reconsider its decision.
“Banning a social media site just because people post comments that the authorities don’t like is a blatant and brazen attack on human rights,” said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty Pacific researcher.
She said if the plan goes ahead, the Solomons will join China, North Korea and Iran as the only countries that have banned Facebook altogether.
Another Pacific island nation, Nauru, restricted access to Facebook from 2015 to 2018 after being pressured to host an Australian-funded asylum-seekers detention camp.
The government of Samoa reported a similar ban in July this year, but has yet to take action.
Honiara-based lawmaker Peter Kenilorea Jr., who heads Parliament’s influential foreign relations committee, accused the Solomons government of “choking” free speech.
“This decision has deep and profound consequences for us as a nation – it goes to the heart of the democratic principles and values on which our nation is based,” he told AFP.
Our Telekom, one of the largest internet providers in the country, said it had not received any communication from the telecommunications regulator and could not provide further comment.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)