The Free Media Movement, while vehemently objecting to the circular 04/2022 issued by the Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs on 27-09-2022 regarding the expression of opinions on social media by public officers, expresses the strong displeasure of FMM regarding the intolerant strong-willed stance of the government regardless of the objections expressed.
The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the provisions of the Establishments Code applicable to public servants override the right to speech and expression, recognized as a core human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as a fundamental right by the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
This was clearly reiterated in the judgment of fundamental rights case No. SCFR 76/2012 filed by a teacher against disciplinary action regarding expressing opinions through media. Also, in a background where the right to information is recognized as a fundamental right and the right to whistle-blowing is protected under it, attempting to implement the provisions of the outdated Establishments code is a reversal of the rights won by the people. Recently, when the Secretary of the Ministry of Health issued a circular similarly citing the Establishments Code regarding expressing opinions to the media, the Free Media Movement insisted that the Establishments Code should be amended to suit the new context.
The Free Media Movement, which strongly advocates for the protection and expansion of the freedom of speech and expression, which is a basic condition for the existence and perpetuation of all human rights, is an organization that constantly emphasizes that this freedom should be used responsibly. This applies to journalists as well as public servants and the public. We also do not deny that there may be cases where public servants have to be subject to certain restrictions in expressing their opinions. However, such limitations should be determined by a progressive approach that protects the rights that are now legally recognized and not by repeating outdated laws and provisions. The use of such ignorant and stunted weapons against a vibrant society demanding a revolutionary change in the entire system through the massive public uprising has to be condemned.
Therefore, we urge the government to immediately withdraw this circular and to take steps to amend the outdated laws including the Establishments Code which infringes on the freedom of speech and expression.
04 October 2022