Sri Lankan citizens’ freedom of expression is being restricted and threatened by administrative and criminal sanctions, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has said.The BASL has in a media statement said it believes that the right to protest, as manifested in the freedom of assembly, association, and expression, is an important feature of a democratic society.
“This right is vital for the healthy functioning of a democracy, and while it is recognised that the right to protest can be subjected to certain limitations, it is equally important to ensure that these limitations are not the results of arbitrary measures contrary to the rule of law, and the equal protection of the law as guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution”
“We must ensure the the police, who are bound to act according to the law to protect the fundamental rights, cannot act arbitrarily in carrying out their responsibilities.
“In the recent case of U. N. S. P. Kurukulasuriya, Convenor, Free Media Movement, and J. K. W. Jayasekara, Vs. Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation SCFR 556/2008 and 557/2008 decided on 17.02.2021, the Supreme Court quoted with approval the following passages found in several decisions of Sri Lankan courts: “The right to support or to criticise governments and political parties, policies and programmes is fundamental to the democratic way of life; …and democracy requires not merely that dissent be tolerated, but that it be encouraged. Criticism of the Government, and of political parties and policies, is per se, a permissible exercise of the freedom of speech and expression under Article14 (1) (a).”
“In the same case His Lordship Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare observed as follows: “The danger of suppressing dissent was emphasized in Gunawardena v. Pathirana, OIC, Police Station, Elpitiya (1997) 1 Sri LR 265 stating that dissent, or disagreement manifested by conduct or action, is a cornerstone of the Constitution, which should not only be tolerated but encouraged by the Executive as obligated expressly by Article 4(d), Justice Mark Fernando cited the dictum of Justice Jackson in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barbette (1943) 319 US 624, 641; “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.”
Therefore, we would like to remind the government that in a country with a rich history of expression through protest, it is important that people are not silenced, and their right to peaceful protest is upheld and respected.”
( The Island)