HONIARA: The Solomon Islands is reportedly planning to ban Facebook after receiving harsh criticism on the social media platform, sparking outrage among rights groups and opposition figures in the Pacific island nation.
Communication Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka drafted plans for a temporary ban this week and discussions were underway with Internet service providers on how to implement it, the Solomon Times reported.
"Abusive languages against ministers, Prime Minister (Manasseh Sogavare), character assassination, defamation of character, all these are issues of concern," he told the publication.
Sogavare's office did not respond to queries about its plans, which opposition leader Matthew Wale said would represent unjustified censorship.
"Social media, especially Facebook has been a key platform for free exchange of views by citizens," Wale said.
"There are no grounds weighty enough to warrant a ban on Facebook or social media at this time – an animated and engaged citizenry is critical to accountable government."
Facebook is widely used in the Solomons, where the population of 700,000 is spread among rugged volcanic islands and coral atolls, making communications difficult.
Sogavare regularly uses the platform to distribute government messages, including health updates regarding Covid-19 infections.
Amnesty International said interfering with a vital information source during a global pandemic could cost lives and the government needed to urgently rethink its strategy.
"To ban a social media site simply because people are posting comments the authorities don't like is a blatant and brazen attack on human rights," Amnesty's Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said.
She said that if the plan went ahead, the Solomons would join China, North Korea and Iran as the only countries to have totally banned Facebook.
"This would be a damning indictment of the Solomon Islands' attitude towards human rights," she added.
Another Pacific island nation, Nauru, curbed access to Facebook from 2015 to 2018 after coming under pressure for hosting an Australian-bankrolled asylum seeker detention camp.
The Samoa government flagged a similar ban in July this year but has not yet taken any action.
Honiara-based lawmaker Peter Kenilorea Jr, who heads parliament's influential foreign relations committee, accused the Solomons' government of "strangling" free expression.
"This decision has deep and far-reaching consequences for us as a nation – it cuts to the heart of the democratic principles and values upon which our nation rests," he said.
Agovaka told the Solomon Times that ISPs would have to create a firewall blocking access to Facebook.
The Solomons' two major ISPs, Satsol and Our Telekom, did not respond to requests for comment.
Facebook has also been approached for reaction to the plan. – AFP