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Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission finds Online Safety Act flawed

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Colombo, Feb 9 (PTI) Sri Lanka's human rights commission on Friday expressed its deep concern to the Speaker of Parliament on the non compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the adaptation of the controversial Online Safety Act.

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The bill was adopted in Parliament on January 24 by a simple majority amidst Opposition claims that the Supreme Court’s recommendations had not been included in full and it would stifle freedom of speech.

Highlighting the omission of certain clauses by the highest court, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), in a letter to the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, said, “The Commission is deeply concerned about the above omissions in the Online Safety Act in terms of the Act’s full compliance with the Supreme Court’s determination.” The Opposition argued, citing the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC), that the bill would hamper efforts to invite foreign investment.

The government, however, defended the bill, saying the Attorney General’s Department officials had seen to the inclusion of all amendments suggested by the Supreme Court.

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The HRCSL asserts that if the full set of the highest court’s recommendations were to be included, it would require the bill to be enacted with a special majority — two-thirds in the 225-member assembly.

The law has come under widespread condemnation, with critics arguing it was a draconian system to stifle dissent and could undermine the potential growth of Sri Lanka’s digital economy.

The bill is accused of making broad and vague speech-related offences punishable by lengthy prison terms.

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The government in response to the criticism, declared in Parliament yesterday that it accepts that the law had shortcomings, therefore it was open to amending it.

The new legislation would lead to the establishment of the Online Safety Commission, which is empowered to make punitive rulings on offences.

A false statement online would be liable, if convicted, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand Sri Lankan rupees. PTI CORR GSP AKJ AMS

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