The Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), its constituents and affiliated organisations have expressed grave concern over the proposed ‘Anti–Terrorism Act’ (ATA) published on 22 March 2023 (Gazette notification dated 17 March 2023), drafted to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA).
Issuing a statement, the SLPI observed that the presented bill has several controversial elements that are not conducive for the media community.
"The proposed bill consists of an overbroad and vague definition of “acts of terrorism” that can be interpreted in a manner which curtails the freedom of expression.
The broad powers vested within the proposed bill enables the criminalisation of speech that is likely to be understood as an encouragement or inducement to commit or prepare for terrorism, with the burden of proof on the defendant to show that was not their intention.
These offences also apply to those who publish, distribute, sell, or transmit publications that could be interpreted as materials supporting acts of terrorism.
According to the Bill, confidential information could be any information having an ‘adverse impact’ on ‘national security/defence’ which includes ‘any information not in the public domain’. Therefore, the broad and vague classification of ‘confidential information’ could place media personnel in a precarious position in the due course of executing their duties, as many offences which fall under the criminal law could now be reframed as ‘terrorist offences’."
Therefore, the SLPI noted that the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of citizens, in terms of freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom to dissent are threatened through the proposed ATA.
"While the SLPI understands the need to amend the PTA, it also endorses caution in making amendments that could undermine democracy and good governance," it added.