PIC: Daily Star
The online safety bill, if it becomes a law, would be an assault on freedom of expression, opinion and information, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has warned.
“If adopted in its present form it would crush free expression and further contract an already shrinking civic space in Sri Lanka,” ICJ said in a statement on Friday (29).
Gazetted by the Ministry of Public Security, the bill intends to dramatically regulate the content of online communication, including by the general public.
The bill is being taken up for debate on Tuesday (4) in the Sri Lankan parliament.
The ICJ considers several provisions of the bill would serve to undermine the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, including freedom of information and expression.
“While the spread of online hate-speech and disinformation need to be tackled, this bill is deeply flawed in its design and would be open to abuse by the Sri Lankan government, which has persistently failed to uphold freedom of expression,” Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director says.
The risks in the bill include suppressing public debate about the conduct of the government and public policy, he added. The proposed establishment of an ‘Online Safety Commission’ has also come under criticism by the ICJ for that would prohibit online communication of certain statements of facts among others.
ICJ has also pointed out the demand of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) which has called for the immediate withdrawal of the bill, and has said the bill ‘will have a serious impact on the community at large’.
“The current draft fails to adhere to the principles of legitimacy, necessity, and proportionality required for any State activity that restricts rights. It must be
withdrawn or amended to be brought in line with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations guaranteeing freedom of expression, opinion, and information” Seiderman further added.
PTA and ATA
Stressing the bill should not be evaluated in a vacuum, but instead must be read in conjunction with existing and proposed legislation that threatens human rights
including the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the proposed Anti-Terrorism law which seeks to replace the PTA.
While the Sri Lankan constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression as well as Civil and Political Rights, ICJ has raised fears that the proposed Online
Safety Bill would negate such rights and freedom.
The UN Human Rights Council in July 2018 adopted by consensus a resolution affirming “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in
particular freedom of expression.