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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Joint statement: Online Safety Bill and Anti-Terror Bill –  Law making to end democracy and fundamental rights of Sri Lankan citizens

Cartoon courtesy of The Morning.

The Government has included two Bills titled ‘The Online Safety Act’ (OSA) and the ‘Anti-Terror Act’ (ATA) in the Parliamentary Order Paper dated 3rd October 2023. Both Bills have sweeping provisions to seriously. curtail and even violate the freedoms of expression, free speech, right to information, assembly and association. Both present fatal threats to democracy and fundamental rights in this country.

‘Online Safety Commission’ by Ranil Rajapaksa

The OSA proposes to create an ‘Online Safety Commission’ appointed by the President and dismissed at his will and pleasure, which is given sweeping powers to determine if a statement is a ‘false statement’ and take measures to ‘prohibit’ it from circulation. The Commission has powers to issue directives to persons and online service providers to remove or block content, sites and locations. If its directives are not complied with, penal sanctions including prison sentences and fines can be imposed. The OSA will embed a culture of state harassment of online journalists and activists, artists, scholars, writers, Trade Unions Civil Society Organisations, including Women’s Groups, Human Rights defenders, professional organisations, and any citizen who dares to criticize the government and disagree with its policies and governance.

Not only the Fundamental Rights of speech, expression and access to information but the right to claim them through the connected rights of freedom of protest and association will be curtailed and destroyed by the State. The inevitable self-censorship of citizens and communities that can follow, will embed authoritarian and dictatorial governance that has no respect for the Sovereignty of the Sri Lankan people that is a foundational value in our Constitution. The lack of accountability and corruption in governance that we see today will become a permanent aspect of governance. The impact on the life of a Sri Lankan citizen and another generation will be far reaching and hard to reverse. This will complete Sri Lanka’s transformation into a complete Orwellian State where what the ‘truth’ is will be determined and imposed exclusively by the State.

Reinvention of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act

The ATA will be a reinvention of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which it claims to repeal. Under the ATA the definition of what comprises ‘terrorism’ is so vast and vague that any act can become an act of terror if the State deems it so. Any protest or strike can become an act of terror. Any instance of free speech can be deemed as inciting ‘terrorism’. Any organisation can be proscribed as a ‘terrorist’ association. Any publication can be deemed a ‘terrorist’ publication. Anyone associated with ‘terrorist’ suspects, by virtue of association and knowledge, can be punished. Detentions will be made through executive orders and the military has been given powers to arrest and detain, powers which it did not have even under the PTA.

ATA will create a permanent state of emergency

The ATA will create a permanent state of emergency where Sri Lanka will effectively become a military state functioning under the exclusive dictate of the Executive. Repealing the PTA has been a promise made to the nation and the global community of nations represented at the United Nations. What this bill does however is to increase the power of the State to repress citizens   and deny the Constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Rights of the People.

Legalising the misuse of state power

The proposed laws are a clear indication that the government fears that its indifference to the grave hardships of the people in this economic crisis will not be tolerated, and will be resisted. The Citizens of this country were not responsible for this man-made crisis. Instead of taking responsibility for the crisis, the government is making use of debt restructuring to make laws that encourage governance that is not accountable to the people and tries to legalise the misuse of state power. Under the guise of domestic debt restructuring savings of the working people are being stolen.

Labour law reforms – an end to the right to unionise 

Under the guise of labour law reforms, proposals are being pushed to bring an end to the right to unionise and exploit women’s labour. Women’s groups and activists have made an important contribution to ensuring that our laws and policies on women’s work conform to international ILO and other standards, and our Constitution. The proposed labour laws target women disproportionately, and will eliminate all these gains, embedding and encouraging exploitation of their labour. Even criticism of the transformation will be prevented by these repressive laws.

Establishing a political dictatorship

We are still suffering the impact of repressive laws of the past, enacted in the name of national defence, stability, economic growth and development. What the Government needs to do, is to learn from the past and engage in enlightened law making. That agenda must repeal repressive laws and respond to embedded corruption, fostering national unity and equitable economic growth that benefits all citizens in our plural society. The government’s intention in passing laws that violate the basic values of democratic governance in our Constitution shows that they want to change course, and establish a political dictatorship. The pretext is debt restructuring and economic recovery from bankruptcy.

The example of the Right to Information Bill

We as Women’s groups and other Civil Society groups and concerned citizens call upon the government to withdraw ALL these Bills from Parliament. Government must engage in a   process of consultative law-making, that we saw when the Right to Information Bill was passed. That law has received praise for strengthening accountable governance in local and international reviews of governance in our country. MPs, whether or not they are unelected by the people, and come to Parliament from a national list, take an oath of office that must respect the responsibilities of office under the basic law of our country the Constitution. According to the Preamble to that document, THEIR DUTY  IS:

“ to humbly acknowledge (their) obligation to ratify the immutable republican principle of representative democracy, assuring to all people Freedom Equality Justice Fundamental Human Rights and the Independence of the judiciary”.(PREAMBLE Constitution 1978)

We call upon the govt to WITHDRAW ALL these bills, and engage in a public conversation with qualified persons and citizens on public policy in these important areas. We call upon ALL Members of Parliament to fulfil the above-stated Constitutional mandate and VOTE AGAINST these repressive laws.

Individual Signatories:

  1. C. Fathima Husna (Attorney at Law)
  2. Rose (Community Activist)
  3. Aakiya Aman (Entrepreneur)
  4. Ambika Satkunanathan (Former Human Rights Commissioner)
  5. Ameena Hussein – Writer
  6. Anberiya Haniffa – Director, Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum, Development Consultant
  7. Aneesa Firthous  (Women’s rights Activist)
  8. Annie Kurien – Director Centre for Social Concern
  9. Anuratha Rajaretnam  (Coordinator Suriya)
  10. Ashila Dandeniya (Labour Rights Activist)
  11. Balarasa Ratneswary (Women’s Rights Activist)
  12. Balasingam Sukitha (Women’s Rights Activist)
  13. Bisliya Bhutto (Former Local Authority Member)
  14. Chamila Thushari (Women’s Labour Rights Activist)
  15. Chandani Herath (Chairperson Sunila Women and Children Development Foundation)
  16. Chriten jeyaseelan Augustalima (Social Media Activist- Mannar )
  17. Deepika Udagama – Professor of Law University of Peradeniya Former    Chairperson  Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
  18. Dr Tush Wickramanayaka (Child Rights Activist)
  19. Chulani Kodikara – Polity Editorial Collective, Former Member of National Committee on Women
  20. Radhika Coomaraswamy –Fellow International Centre for Ethnic Studies
  21. Ramani Jayasundera, Board Member Centre for Women’s Research
  22. Selvi Thiruchandran – Former Member RTI Commission and Executive Director Women’s’ Education and Research Centre
  23. Sepali Kottegoda – Director Programmes and Research, Women and Media Collective
  24. Thiloma Munasinghe – Public Health Consultant
  25. Thiyagaraja Waradas – Human Rights Activist
  26. Duleep de Chickera, former Bishop, Anglican Church of SL
  27. Ermiza Tegal – Attorney at Law
  28. Faizun Zakeriya, Co- Founder & Director, Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum
  29. Fathima Ilma (Former Local Authority Member)
  30. Geethika Dharmasinghe – Senior Lecturer University of Colombo
  31. Geoffrey Alagaratnam – PC Former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
  32. Hamthun Jumana – Women’s Rights Activist Mullaitheevu
  33. R.A Dorin – Community Activist
  34. Janakie Seneviratne – Women’s Rights Activist
  35. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala (Women’s Rights Activist )
  36. Jegatheeswaran Thayalini  (Women’s Rights Activist)
  37. Jegatheeswaran Varayalini (Women’s Rights Activist)
  38. Jezima Ismail – Educationist, Former member Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Co-founder Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum
  39. Justice Rohini Marasinge – Former Chairperson Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
  40. Juwairiya Mohideen (Women’s Rights Activist)
  41. Nihal Ahamed (Social Activist- Ampara)
  42. Yogeshwary (General Secretary Working Women Front – Katugastota)
  43. Kanaka Abeygunawardana (Independent Consultant)
  44. Kanthaiyah Kalaivani (Political Activist)
  45. Karuppaiya Saththiyaseelan (Women’s Rights Activist)
  46. Kathirkamanathan Hemalarha (Women’s Rights Activist)
  47. Kiruthika Thurairajah – Independent Consultant
  48. Kunaraja Ajitha (Women’s Rights Activist)
  49. Laxman Rajani (Social Worker)
  50. M,Y. Minnathul Suheera (Attorney at Law)
  51. Noorul Ismiya (Community Mobiliser)
  52. Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan (Human Rights Defender – Mannar)
  53. Mahendiran Nirmalathevi (Women’s Rights Activist)
  54. Maithreyi Rajasingam – Director – Vilithu
  55. Manjula Krishnamoorthy (Former Local Authority Member)
  56. Mansoor Mafahira (Social Mobiliser – Mannar)
  57. Marisa de Silva (Social Media and Community Activist)
  58. Mohamed Majeed Jansila (Women’s Rights Activist – Mullaitheevu)
  59. Mujeeba Mujeeb (Former Local Authority Member)
  60. Nabeela Iqbal (Sisterhood Initiative)
  61. Nadaraja Sumathy (CSO Activist- Ampara)
  62. Nadhiha Abbas (Attorney at Law)
  63. Nalini Rathnarajah (Women Human Rights Defender)
  64. Nelum Gunesekera – Consultant – Gender and Social Inclusion.
  65. Nirmalan Arththigan  (Women’s Rights Activist)
  66. Renukathevi (Program manager ESDF- Batticaloa)
  67. Padma Pushpakanthi (Social Activist)
  68. Padmini Weerasuriya (Executive Director)
  69. Prema Gamage – Gender and Development Consultant.
  70. Priyanthi Fernando- Former Executive Director Centre for Poverty Analysis Sri Lanka and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.
  71. Prof Gameela Samarasinghe, University of Colombo
  72. Prof Harendra de Silva (Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics University of Colombo and  Former Chairperson National Child Protection )
  73. Prof Savithri Goonesekere – Emeritus Professor of Law, Former Vice Chancellor University of Colombo
  74. Camena Gunaratne, Open University
  75. Rajabdeen Rasika (Women’s Rights Activist Mullaitheevu)
  76. Rajany Rajeshwary (Feminist- Jaffna)
  77. Ramani Mutthetuwegama (Attorney at Law)
  78. Ranitha Gnanarajah (Attorney at Law)
  79. Ravinthiran Kounthini ( Women’s Rights Activist)
  80. Dr. Jayasiri T Peiris Former General Secretary of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka and Former Principal, Theological College of Lanka
  81. S D P Selvan
  82. Rifa Mohamed Musthafa (Social Activist- Ampara)
  83. Rifsana Fiqry (Entrepreneur)
  84. Rizani Hamin (Women’s Rights Activist)
  85. Janeeta (Social Activist- Ampara)
  86. Safana Gul Begum (Attorney at Law)
  87. Sakuntala Kadirgamar – Executive Director, Law and Society Trust
  88. Saliya Peries – PC Former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
  89. Sarala Emanuel – Independent Researcher
  90. Saratha Thevi (Psychosocial Counselor)
  91. Saththiyaseelan Niththis (Women’s Rights Activist
  92. Selvanathan Tharsan (Women’s Rights Activist)
  93. Selvarasa Jeyantha (Women’s Rights Activist – Mannar)
  94. Selvarasa Thileepan (Women’s Rights Activist)
  95. Shafinaz Hassendeen, Retired International Labour Organisation Official, Director, Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum
  96. Shareefa Ameer (Entrepreneur)
  97. Shiranee Mills –Executive Director, Women’s Education and Research Centre.
  98. Shireen Samarasuriya – Director, Voice of Women
  99. Shreen Saroor (Human Rights Activist)
  100. Shyama Salgado – Retired Official International Labour Organisation
  101. Shyamala Gomez (Women’s Rights Activist)
  102. Shyamala Sivagurunathan (Independent Consultant)
  103. Shydha Zaara (Scoal Activist)
  104. Sirany Thevakumar  (Women Human Rights Defender)
  105. Sithravel Ethayarani  (Women’s Rights Activist)
  106. Sitraleka Maunaguru –Independent Feminist Researcher – Batticaloa
  107. Siva Mariyarosalin  (Women’s Rights Activist
  108. Sri Easwaray (Women’s Rights Activist)
  109. Sri Kopika  (Women’s Rights Activist)
  110. Sulochana Peiris (Independent Writer and Documentary Maker
  111. Sumika Perera- Director, Women’s Resource Centre, Kurunegala
  112. Suntharalingam Saththiya (Women’s Rights Activist)
  113. Suntharampillai Suganthi (Women’s Rights Activist)
  114. Surendran Thamilini (Women’s Rights Activist- Mannar
  115. Suresh Jayawardhane (Freelance Consultant and CSO Activist
  116. Swasthika Arulingham (President Commercial Industrial Workers’ Union)
  117. Thadchanamoorthy Navajothy (Women Human Rights Defender -Batticaloa)
  118. Tharanga de Silva – Women and Media Collective
  119. Vanie Simon (Women’s Rights Activist)
  120. Vibooshi Balakrishnan (Human Rights Activist)
  121. Vijayatheva Sasikala (Former Municipal Council Member – Batticaloa)
  122. Vijitha Ehamparanathan (Women’s Rights Activist- Trincomalee)
  123. Vipulan Shamini  (Women’s Rights Activist)
  124. Vivekananth Sinthuka (Women’s Rights Activist)
  125. Rinoza (Social Activist- Ampara)


Organizations and Collectives:


  1. Affected Women’s Forum
  2. Alliance for Minorities
  3. Ampara District Alliance for Land Right (ADALR)
  4. Cantre for Women’s Research
  5. Centre for Equality and Justice
  6. Centre for Social Concerns
  7. Community Welfare Fund Sri Lanka
  8. Dabindu Collective
  9. Forum of Women Human Rights Defenders, Eastern Province
  10. Human Elevation Organization (HEO)
  11. Law and Society Trust
  12. Liberation Movement
  13. Malarum Mottukal Collective – Mannar
  14. Mannar Women’s Development Federation
  15. Muslim Women’s Development Trust
  16. Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum
  17. Network of Women in local politics, Eastern Province
  18. Network of Women with disabilities, Batticaloa district
  19. Puttalam District Women’s Self Employment Reconciliation Forum
  20. Rainbow Pillars for Creativity (Batticaloa)
  21. Rural Development Foundation
  22. Savisthri National Women’s Movement
  23. Sri Vimukthi Fisher Women’s Organisation (Negombo)
  24. Stand Up Movement Lanka
  25. Suriya Women’s Development Centre
  26. Vallamai-Movement for Social Change
  28. Voice of Women
  29. Women Actions for Independent Development -WOMEN AID
  30. Women and Media Collective
  31. Women Development innovators
  32. Women’s Action for Social Justice
  33. Women’s Centre Sri Lanka
  34. Women’s Action Network
  35. Women’s Education and Research Centre
  36. Women’s Resource Centre, Kurunegala
  37. Working Women’s Front


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