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Sri Lanka: Civil society statement condemning the abuse of the ICCPR Act to violate the freedom of expression.

Image: An activist protest against suppression of media Freedom.

22nd June, 2023

 We the undersigned individuals and organisations are deeply concerned by the continuing abuse of law including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, No. 56 of 2007 and its selective application to violate the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. The state has systematically used the ICCPR law, which was meant to promote and protect human rights, to silence and punish human rights defenders, political activists, writers, artists, and lawyers.

We strongly condemn the recent arrests of comedian Nathasha Edirsooriya and owner of the SLVlog YouTube Channel, Bruno Diwakara, under the ICCPR Act without recourse to bail.

On 21 June 2023, Divakara was released on bail and the ICCPR Act was removed from the case against him. Nathasha Edirisooriya was denied bail under the ICCPR and the Penal code, and remains imprisoned until 05 July 2023.

The ICCPR Act was enacted in 2007 to give effect to the ICCPR, which is a core international human rights convention, and to signal that Sri Lanka was effectively implementing its obligations under this treaty. The implementation of the ICCPR Act is a key benchmark with respect to Sri Lanka’s human rights record both nationally and internationally.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body responsible for monitoring implementation of the ICCPR, in its review of Sri Lanka in 2023, expressed concern over the abuse of the ICCPR Act “to stifle freedom of expression, as well as the failure of the authorities to grant bail in a timely manner to individuals charged under the Act”. The Committee recommended that Sri Lanka “[r]efrain from prosecuting and imprisoning, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act, journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and other civil society actors as a means of deterring or discouraging them from freely expressing their opinions”. The abuse of this law is deeply damaging not only to those being targeted and jailed, but also to Sri Lanka’s attempts to overcome the current political, social, and economic crisis.

Since its enactment, the ICCPR Act has been repeatedly abused to target human rights defenders, political activists, writers, artists, lawyers, and now comedians. Section 3 (1) of the Act states that “No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. The provisions of Section 3 are particularly dangerous, as it empowers the state to arrest and jail those targeted without recourse to bail. Per Section 3 (4) of the Act, a person arrested under this Act is denied access to bail unless through the High Court in exceptional circumstances.

In Nathasha Edirisooriya’s case, the comedian received serious online threats for days prior to her arrest on 27 May, 2023. These threats prompted her to attempt to leave the country for her safety.

In September 2019, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka issued guidelines on the application of the ICCPR Act noting that “the enforcement of section 3 of the ICCPR Act has not been done in a consistent and an even-handed manner”. Recent arrests indicate that the Sri Lankan state has paid scant attention to national or international pressure on its human rights record or use of this law.

The Sri Lankan state continues to weaponise provisions relating to incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred to stifle the freedom of expression. Its actions have also emboldened chauvinistic and violent extremist groups to target, label and openly threaten individuals for their expressions.

In Nathasha Edirisooriya’s case, the comedian received serious online threats for days prior to her arrest on 27 May, 2023. These threats prompted her to attempt to leave the country for her safety. The threats included revealing her personal data and address, threats of physical violence, and repeated threats of arrest. Instead of protecting her, the Sri Lankan authorities arrested the comedian, who remains in jail to date.

We call for an immediate end to the abuse of the ICCPR Act, legal reform and mechanisms to ensure its proper implementation and prevent abuse. We call  for the release of those held under this law, and that at a minimum, they are provided access to bail while investigations continue.

Ethnic and religious harmony remains a challenge in Sri Lanka, where chauvinistic and violent extremist groups are empowered to attack, label, and threaten minorities and those who speak out. Jailing human rights defenders, political activists, artists, writers, lawyers, and comedians, without basis, will only erode trust in a system that is already beset with multiple crises.

Signatories;

Individuals

 

  1. Ajitha
  2. Ambika Satkunanathan
  3. Amila Dunuwille
  4. Amila Sandaruwan
  5. Angelica Chandrasekeran
  6. Angeline Ondaatjie
  7. Anithra Varia
  8. Anoma Wijesuriya
  9. Anuruddha Bandara – Social & Political Activist
  10. Anuruddika Piyasena
  11. Aruna Paul Simittrarachchi
  12. Asma Edris
  13. Gowthaman
  14. Sukitha
  15. Bertha Dharmadasa
  16. Bishop Duleep de Chickera
  17. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
  18. Brendan Babapulle
  19. Chaminda Dias
  20. Chanaka Karunarathne
  21. Channaka Jayasinghe
  22. Chandrika Gadiewasam – Freelance Journalist
  23. M. Dissanayake – AAL
  24. Damith Chandimal – Human Rights Activist
  25. Deanne Uyangoda
  26. Denver Peterson – Activist
  27. Deshamanya Godfrey Yogarajah
  28. Dilani Ubayasiri
  29. Farah Mihlar
  30. Mareena Thaha Reffai
  31. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
  32. Ranil D. Guneratne
  33. Sakuntala Kadirgamar
  34. Sanjana Hattotuwa
  35. Shermal Wijewardene
  36. Zackariya
  37. Fathima Nabeela Iqbal
  38. Fuzly Mohamed
  39. Gamini Akmeemana
  40. Geethika Dharmasinghe
  41. Gehan Gunatilleke – AAL
  42. Gregory Wise
  43. Hilmy Ahamed
  44. Hussain Shamil
  45. Ian Ferdinands
  46. Iranthi Abeyasinghe
  47. Ishan Jalill – Ability for Action
  48. K.H.S.L. Perera
  49. Thayalini
  50. Varayalini
  51. Janaki Fernandopulle
  52. Jansila Majeed
  53. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala
  54. Jehanki Anandha
  55. Jemima Ahmad
  56. Jenat Silva
  57. Joanne Senn
  58. G.R. Dilshan
  59. Hemalatha
  60. Saththiyaseelan
  61. Kaushalya Ariyarathne
  62. Lakshman Gunasekara – South Asian Free Media Association – Sri Lanka Chapter
  63. Nirmalathevi
  64. Madhubhashini R. Rathnayaka
  65. Manjula Gajanayake
  66. Mario Gomez
  67. Marisa de Silva
  68. Marisa Fernando
  69. Melani Gunathilaka
  70. Melani Manel Perera – Journalist
  71. Arththigan
  72. Krishnakumar

73.          Nagulan Nesiah

  1. Neranjan Maddumage
  2. Nilshan Fonseka
  3. Niran Wirasinha
  4. Nirasha Fernando
  5. Nishan de Mel – Economist
  6. Parakrama Bokalawela
  7. Pasan Jayasinghe
  8. Pathum Egodawatta
  9. Philip Dissanayake
  10. Premila Naguleswaran
  11. Arjuna Parakrama – University of Peradeniya
  12. Jayadeva Uyangoda
  13. Sumathy Sivamohan – University of Peradeniya
  14. Pujitha Ubayasiri
  15. Kounthini
  16. Ranjan – AAL
  17. Robinson
  18. Saththiya
  19. Rajany Rajeshwary
  20. Rajkumar Rajeevkanth
  21. Ramya Kumar – University of Jaffna
  22. Ranmali de Zoysa
  23. Andrew Devadason
  24. Dr. Jayasiri T. Peiris
  25. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
  26. Fr. Nandana Saparamadu – Catholic Diocese of Colombo
  27. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
  28. Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
  29. Sr. Noel Christine Fernando
  30. Rohana Hettiarachchi
  31. Ruki Fernando
  32. Rushani Wise
  33. Ruwanthie de Chickera – Artist
  34. Ryan Silva
  35. C.C. Elankovan – Lawyer and Development Consultant
  36. Easwary
  37. Ethayarani
  38. Kopika
  39. Mariyarosalin
  40. Niththika
  41. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole – Former Member, Election Commission of Sri Lanka
  42. Suganthi
  43. Tharsan
  44. Thileepan
  45. Sabra Zahid
  46. Sabrina Symons
  47. Sakuna Gamage
  48. Saman Seneviratne
  49. Sandun Thudugala
  50. Sandya Salgado
  51. Sanjee Goonetilake
  52. Sankha Ranadheera
  53. Sarah Arumugam
  54. Sarath Ratwatte
  55. Senel Wanniarachchi
  56. Serena Burgess
  57. Setunga Mudalige
  58. Shamala Kumar – University of Peradeniya
  59. Shamalee de Silva
  60. Sharmini Ratwatte
  61. Sheila Richards
  62. Shreen Saroor
  63. Siritunga Jayasuriya
  64. Sitralega M. – Independent Feminist Researcher, Batticaloa
  65. Soraya M. Deen – Lawyer & Community Organizer
  66. Srinath Perera – AAL
  67. Suchith Abeyewickreme – Civil Society Activist
  68. Sunanda Deshapriya – Journalist, Writer and Human Rights Activist
  69. Suren D. Perera – AAL
  70. Swasthika Arulingam
  71. Tharindu Jayawardhana
  72. Tharindu Uduwaragedara
  73. Thasneema Dahlan
  74. Themal Ellawala – Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Chicago
  75. Thiagi Piyadasa – AAL
  76. Thilina Madiwala
  77. Thyagi Ruwanathirana
  78. Tisaranee Gunasekara
  79. Shamini
  80. Fr. Samuel J. Ponniah
  81. Vidarshana Kannangara
  82. Vinuk Ubayasiri
  83. Vraie Cally Balthazaar

 

Organisations

 

  1. Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
  2. Community Welfare and Development Fund (CWDF)
  3. Forum for A Plural Democracy
  4. Hashtag Generation
  5. Human Rights Office (HRO), Kandy
  6. Institute for Democratic Reforms & Electoral Studies (IRES)
  7. International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)
  8. Joint Teacher’s Service Union
  9. Law and Society Trust (LST)
  10. Liberation Movement
  11. Mass Movement for Social Justice (MMSJ), Colombo
  12. com Network
  13. Muslim Women’s Research & Action Forum
  14. National Peace Council (NPC)
  15. North South Solidarity
  16. Right to Life Human Rights Centre
  17. Search for Common Ground
  18. Sisterhood Initiative
  19. Solidarity Movement for North and East People’s Struggle
  20. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (SLMC)
  21. Vallamai Movement for Social Change
  22. Voice of the Plantation People Organization
  23. Women’s Action Network (WAN)
  24. Women for Justice and Peace in Sri Lanka
  25. Young Journalists Association (YJA)

 

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