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UN Human Rights Office Expresses Concerns Over Sri Lanka’s Anti-Terrorism and Online Safety Bills

ANM Bureau

In a statement issued by the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, serious concerns have been raised regarding two bills currently under consideration in the Sri Lankan Parliament – the revised Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Online Safety Bill. These bills, if enacted, could potentially infringe upon fundamental human rights and international human rights standards.

The spokesperson explained, “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 statement further emphasized that the Anti-Terrorism Bill 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. Concerns were also expressed about the imposition of curfews, restriction orders, and the designation of prohibited places, raising questions about the scope of powers granted to the executive without sufficient checks and balances.

With regard to the Online Safety Bill, the statement highlighted concerns that it would severely regulate and restrict online communication, potentially allowing authorities to label and restrict expressions they disagree with as “false statements.”

“Many sections of the Bill contain vaguely-defined terms and definitions of offenses 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 spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, remarked.

The UN Human Rights Office, through its spokesperson, 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.

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