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UN expresses concerns over Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Online Safety Bill in Sri Lanka

File photo.

We have serious concerns over two bills under consideration in the Sri Lankan Parliament – the revised Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Online Safety Bill – which give the authorities a range of expansive powers and can impose restrictions on human rights, not in line with international human rights law.

The Anti-Terrorism Bill is intended to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has long been of concern to the UN human rights mechanisms. While some positive revisions have been made in the draft, including the removal of the death penalty as a possible punishment, there are still major concerns about the scope and discriminatory effects of many provisions in the revised draft. Restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are very likely to fail to meet requirements of necessity and proportionality.

The Bill still includes an overly broad definition of terrorism and grants wide powers to the police – and to the military – to stop, question and search, and to arrest and detain people, with inadequate judicial oversight. Other issues remain over the imposition of curfews, restriction orders and the designation of prohibited places, all of which raise concerns about the scope of powers granted to the executive without sufficient checks and balances.

With respect to the Online Safety Bill, we believe it will severely regulate and restrict online communication, including by the general public and will give authorities unfettered discretion to label and restrict expressions they disagree with as “false statements”.

Many sections of the Bill contain vaguely-defined terms and definitions of offences which leave significant room for arbitrary and subjective interpretation, and could potentially criminalize nearly all forms of legitimate expression, creating an environment that has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The UN Human Rights Office urges the Government to undertake further meaningful consultation with civil society and UN independent experts and to make substantial revisions of the draft laws in order to bring them into full compliance with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations.

13 October 2023



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