South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, is deeply concerned about the anti-democratic elements that are entailed in the two new bills introduced in Sri Lanka, the Anti – Terrorism Bill (ATB), and the Online Safety Bill (OSB).  If implemented, these two legislations will severely compromise the rights and freedoms of the people of the country as enshrined in the constitution.

The new ATB is presented as a revision of the previous draft in March 2023.  SAHR notes that though many concerns were raised to the original draft only minor revisions have been done. Therefore, this Bill, if passed,   will potentially repress the people of Sri Lanka, considering the immense authoritarian power that has been granted to the Executive and the dilution of judicial authority. Similar to the   Bill in March 2023, the definition of terrorism in the new bill still fails to comply with the recommended international standards and the broad definition can be used to target dissent, freedom of expression and association. It is further worrying that the bill also provides broad powers to the Police and Armed Forces.

The newly introduced OSB too has the potential to severely curb the freedom of expression and association enshrined in the constitution. As the weaponising of the ICCPR Act and the arbitrary application of which was used to suppress the freedom of expression, dissent and minority rights in the country in the recent past, the content of the new OSB also seems ominous.   The broad framing of the listed offences, absence of clear definitions of crucial terms and punishments allocated in the OSB will qualify it to be used as a repressive measure against democratic processes in the country. The expansive powers awarded to the Executive in maintaining the Online Safety Commission is also problematic.

Therefore, SAHR strongly advocates to the Government of Sri Lanka to withdraw these two problematic Bills. It also emphasises the importance of a transparent consultative process in drafting legislation that would pave the way to promote and protect the rights and freedoms of the people and democratic values.  

On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights

Dr. Roshmi Goswami

Dr. P. Saravanamuttu
Bureau Member