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FeaturesNewsJoint Civil Society Statement on Amendment to Penal Code Criminalizing Hate Speech

Joint Civil Society Statement on Amendment to Penal Code Criminalizing Hate Speech


(Symbol  of anti-Muslim hate speech in Sri Lanka: BBS Gnanasara)

We the under signed organizations and individuals are deeply concerned about two Bills tabled in Parliament on Friday, 11th December 2015 ostensibly to criminalize hate speech and the instigation of communal violence and disharmony. One such Bill tabled is an amendment to the Penal Code which creates the new offence of “causing of or instigating acts of violence, hostility…” which is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years. The other Bill is an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure which provides for the conditions necessary for the initiation of prosecutions for the new offence.

The new offence under the Penal Code is particularly problematic as it is a near verbatim reproduction of the language in Section 2(1) (h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The offence as provided in the Bill is overbroad and general, and is not a permissible restriction in relation to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Furthermore, the proposed amendment, if enacted, could lead to a culture of self-censorship and perpetuate a chilling effect on free speech. We note that Section 2(1) (h) of the PTA was previously used to convict journalist J. S. Tissainayagam for his journalistic writing on alleged war crimes committed by government forces. This overbroad restriction on the freedom of expression is in no way defensible in a democratic society. Furthermore there is a very real possibility, as demonstrated by past experience, that this legislation could be used by governments to target political opponents and those critical of government policy.

We the undersigned question the need for new legislation criminalizing “hate speech” as there are several legal provisions that already do so. The provisions contained in the ICCPR Act 56 of 2007 already criminalize advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The Penal Code provides for the offences of “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings”(Section 291A), “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class, by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” (Section 291B). Furthermore the Penal Code provides for several other offences to protect places of religious worship and religious assembly. These offences themselves already constitute a serious curtailment of the freedom of expression.

Given the multiplicity of laws in Sri Lanka dealing with what could broadly be termed hate speech, our view is that attacks targeting particular religious groups were not the result of a lack of legislation to prosecute perpetrators, but of the selective implementation of existing laws and the lack of political will to implement those laws against the purveyors of violent hate.

In these circumstances, we urge the government to fulfil its obligations to its citizens and its international obligations by withdrawing the bills forthwith and commit anew to fostering a political culture conducive to the exercise of citizens’ free speech rights.


  1. Ainslie Joseph – Convenor, Christian Alliance for Social Action
  2. Annouchka Wijesinghe
  3. Aruni Jayakody
  4. Gowthaman
  5. Balasingham Skanthakumar
  6. Bhavani Fonseka – Attorney-at-Law
  7. Bishop Duleep de Chickera
  8. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
  9. Brito Fernando
  10. Caryll Tozer
  11. Chameera Perera – Left Center
  12. Chandra Jayaratne
  13. Chandraguptha Thenuwara
  14. Chulani Kodikara
  15. B.S. Jeyaraj – Journalist
  16. Deanne Uyangoda
  17. Farzana Haniffa – Senior Lecturer, Sociology – University of Colombo
  18. Jehan Perera
  19. Kumudu Kusum Kumara – University of Colombo
  20. L. Solomons
  21. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
  22. S.B. Dhanapala
  23. Shamala Kumar – University of Peradeniya
  24. Faizun Zackariya – Citizens Voice
  25. Gajen Mahendra
  26. Gamini Viyangoda
  27. Gayathri Gamage
  28. Godfrey Yogarajah – Executive Director, Religious Liberty Commission & World Evangelical Alliance
  29. Gowrie Ponniah
  30. Hans Billimoria
  31. Harini Amarasuriya
  32. Herman Kumara
  33. Iromi Perera
  34. Ishan Jalill – Founder and Executive Director, Action Against Apathy
  35. Jake Oorloff
  36. Jeanne Samuel
  37. Joe William
  38. Jovita Arulanantham
  39. Aingkaran
  40. Kalani Subasinghe
  41. Kumari Kumaragamage
  42. Kusal Perera – Journalist
  43. Lakshan Dias – Attorney-at-Law
  44. Lionel Guruge
  45. Luwie Ganeshathasan – Attorney-at-Law
  46. Mala Liyanage
  47. Manouri Muttetuwegama
  48. Marisa de Silva
  49. Mujeebur Rahman – Journalist (Mannar)
  50. Nalini Ratnarajah – Woman Human Rights Defender
  51. Nigel Nugawela
  52. Nilantha Ilangamuwa – Journalist and Editor, Sri Lanka Guardian
  53. Nimalka Fernando
  54. Niran Anketell – Attorney-at-Law
  55. Selvaratnam
  56. Paba Deshapriya
  57. Philip Setunga
  58. Jayantha Seneviratne – University of Kelaniya
  59. S. Sivamohan
  60. Qadri Ismail
  61. M.B Senanayake – Retired C.C.S
  62. Br. Loyola Fernando FSC
  63. Dr. Jayasiri T. Peiris – Friday Forum
  64. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
  65. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
  66. Fr. T.L.R. Dominic
  67. Jason Selvaraja – Assembly of God, Chavakachcheri
  68. Ronnie Yogarajah
  69. Ruki Fernando
  70. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
  71. Samaraarachchi
  72. C.C. Elankovan
  73. Sabra Zahid
  74. Sampath Samarakoon
  75. Sanjana Hattotuwa – Founding Editor,
  76. Sanjayan Rajasingham
  77. Shakthi Ponniah
  78. Shashika Bandara
  79. Sheila Richards
  80. Shreen Abdul Saroor
  81. Sriyanie Wijesundara
  82. Sudarshana Gunawardana – Attorney-at-Law
  83. Sunanda Deshapriya
  84. Sunethra Bandaranaike
  85. Suren D. Perera – Human Rights Lawyer and Activist
  86. Suriya Wickremasinghe
  87. Mathuri – Attorney-at-Law
  88. Tanuja Thurairajah
  89. Tehani Ariyaratne
  90. Thyagi Ruwanpathirana
  91. Udaya Kalupathirana
  92. Visaka Dharmadasa
  93. Waruna Padmasiri – Attorney-at-Law


  1. Association of War Affected Women (AWAW)
  2. Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
  3. Families of the Disappeared (FoD)
  4. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
  5. Law and Society Trust (LST)
  6. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)
  7. National Peace Council (NPC)
  8. Right to Life (R2L) Human Rights Centre
  9. Rights Now Collective for Democracy
  10. Women’s Action Network (WAN)

– 15th December, 2015


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