A group of citizens representing the media, civil society and trade unions have voiced their grave concerns about the attempts by the government to take the country into a dictatorship by bringing repressive laws restricting the public’s right to expression, right to organize and space for civil activities quite contrary to the basic values of the democracy.
Issuing a joint statement, they observed that planning to pass the Online Safety Bill next week, tabling of the Anti Terrorism Bill in Parliament and other repressive laws show the country that attempts are being made to suppress the public’s right to expression as a narrow effort with the aim of winning the upcoming elections at any cost.
The statement further said;
"We, as signatories to this statement as citizens, civil activists and trade unionists that hold the sovereignty of the country firmly believe a President who was not elected through a public mandate and a parliament consisting of rejected public representatives does not have a moral right to pass repressive legislation and impose new laws.
The forthcoming election is crucial for the country as it's going to be held following the people’s struggle, which was triggered due to unbearable pressure mounted on the public, to demand a system change and democratic governance that is not corrupt and people-friendly. It is essential to ensure that the next election is free and fair, providing a public platform for debate and discussion without any censorship to access information that is accurate, balanced, impartial and non-partisan. All opportunities should be guaranteed for the ruling party as well as for the opposition parties to inform their ideas and policies to the public.
Laws that are silencing and terrifying citizens are causing harm to the people’s friendly environment and democracy. A country which has been brought to the brink of destruction by some politicians and corrupt officials for a long time no longer needs dictatorial rulers sitting above the law. Therefore, as a citizens' collective force, we urge the President and the government, opposition and all political parties representing the parliament to create a democratic environment.
The Online Safety Bill presented by the government was challenged before the Supreme Court by 45 petitioners. At the outset of the hearing, the Attorney General's Department submitted over 32 amendments to the bill. Following the hearing, the Supreme Court determined that 31 clauses needed to be amended.
The Asian Internet Coalition, consisting of world-renowned companies, pointed out to the subject minister in two long letters; one before the Supreme Court determination and another followed by, that the principles of international regulation had been violated by the bill. The validity of the bill was completely annulled following the Supreme Court ruling. A civilized government should have thrown it into the dustbin. However, the government led by the President has made a shameful attempt to pass the bill with amendments by presenting it to the parliament again on 23 January.
The Attorney General's Department was disgraced on the first day itself as the Attorney General had to propose amendments to the bill when it was challenged before the Supreme Court. It indicated that the AG had cleared and presented the draft bill, prepared by someone else without doing a proper study of it. In our opinion as a collective, it is that the Attorney General should resign in order to compensate for the disgrace caused to the department. Our stand is that the government should immediately withdraw this defect bill without causing further disgrace to the country internationally.
We believe that there is no requirement for a draft bill to control the internet as the country has enough legislation in place to counter crimes occurring on the internet.
Legal experts have pointed out that the amendments recommended by the Supreme Court to the Online Safety Bill were not taken appropriately by the Public Security Minister for the second reading of the bill in the parliament. They are of the view that it’s a serious situation. We urge the government to immediately withdraw the bill without being presented for second reading. If the government still wants a bill, it can be decided upon through a lengthy consultation with stakeholders as requested by the Asian Internet Coalition, embassies and the United Nations.
Acting Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennakoon was convicted by the Supreme Court for torture and cruel treatment. However, the President and the government continue to keep him in the position of ignoring and undermining the judiciary, a basic pillar of sovereignty. This shows the government’s desire to move towards a dictatorship. Meanwhile, the government is also attempting to bring a single act named the Employment Bill replacing 13 acts including the Trade Unions Ordinance, Industry Dispute Act and Wages Council Ordinance affecting over 3.6 million private sector employees and without reaching an agreement with trade unions.
We recognize it as another sign of the dictatorship through the various repressive actions by the government against trade unions and civil society against their right to organize and the bill on Non-Governmental Organizations. We demand the government to withdraw all these bills immediately and enter a consultation process with stakeholders.
If the government still attempts to present the bills by ignoring all these factors, we respectfully urge the progressive MPs of the ruling party as well as all MPs in the opposition to defeat them at the second reading. We emphasize as a citizens' collective; we won’t hesitate to take all measures through democratic means to defeat all the MPs who will vote in favor of the bills without responding to the people's voice.
We condemn the president’s attempt to become a dictator using executive powers amidst all these developments. We urge all political parties and also propose all public representatives to commit to building a democratic country where all citizens can live with respect and dignity by abolishing the executive presidential system before the next election or in a very short period of time."
A list of persons and organizations that signed the above statement representing the media, civil society, and trade unions are mentioned below.
Free Media Movement
Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association
Young Journalists’ Association of Sri Lanka
Media Law Forum
Law and Society Trust
National Cooperative Development Fund
Association of Health Professionals
Sri Lanka Postal and Telecommunication Service Union
All Ceylon Management Service Officers’ Union
South Asia Free Media Association
Ceylon Teachers’ Union
Ceylon Trade Union Federation
United Postal Trade Union Front
Savisthri National Women’s Moment
Uva Wellassa Women’s Organization
Movement for the Defence of Democratic Rights (MDDR)
Free Media Movement Tarde Union (FMMTU)
Ceylon Teachers’ Union
Moment for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR)
National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)
Women’s Action for Social Justice (WASJ)
United Federation of Labour (UFL)
Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU)
Muslim Media Forum
Jaffna Press Club
Tamil Women Journalists Association
Tamil Media Alliance
Transparency International Sri Lanka
Free Trade Zone Union
South Asian Women in Media Network- Sri Lanka
Ceylon Bank Employees Union (CBEU)
South Asian Free Media Association
People’s Commission of Women in Sri Lanka
The Voice of Truth
Stand Up Movement in Sri Lanka
Trade Union to Upliftment of Sri Lanka Railway
Freedom Trade Union Center (FTUC)
Prabha Abhilasha Network
People’s Alliance for Right to Land (PARL)
Voice of the plantation people organization (VoPP)
Sri Lanka All Telecommunication Employees’ Union
Unite – Trade Union and Mass Organization Collective
PEN Sri Lanka
National Movement for Social Justice
Standup Workers Union
Asian Media and Cultural Association
Women Center Sri Lanka
Human Rights Documentation Center (INFORM)
Father Sarath Iddamalgoda
Prof Arjuna Pararkarama
Prof Liyanage Amarakeerthi
Prof Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
Prof Vijaya Jayathilaka
Dr Ravindra kariyawasam
Dr Rathna Sri Wijesinghe
Dr Kalpa Rajapaksa
Senior Lecturer Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya
Thusitha Siriwardena, Attorney at Law
D M Dissanayake, Attorney at Law
Journalist Seetha Ranjanee
Journalist Hana Ibrahim
Journalist Upali Kolambage
Journalist Ananda Dharmapriya Jayasekara
Journalist Thimbiriyagama Bandara
Journalist Saroj Pathirana
Journalist T M G Chandrasekara
Senior researcher Sarath Kellapatha
Journalist Tharindu Iranga Jayawardena
Journalist Sujeewa Senarath
Littérateur S Nandalal
Social Activist Jayani Abeysekara
Journalist Jayasiri Jayasekara
Journalist Prasad Poornimal
Journalist Shalika Wimalasena
Civil and Human Rights Activist Cyril Pathirage
Creativist Nandasiri Dhrmaratne
Dramatist and Civil Activist Roy Rodrigo
Journalist Indika Roshan Garusinghe
Journalist Chamara Sampath
Civil and Human Rights Activist Suranga Rupasinghe
Journalist Priyan R Wijebandara
Environmentalist Hemantha Withanage
Environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara
Trade Unionist Chinthaka Bandara
Dramatist Ranasinghe Adhikari
Lyricist Sudath Gamini Bandara
Social Activist Thamara Dayani Heetimullage
Shrinath Perera, Attorney at Law
Journalist Nayanajeewa Bandara
K.W. Janaranjana, Attorney at Law
Journalist K. Sanjeewa
Journalist Lasantha Ruhunage
Journalist Sunil Jayasekara
Marine Engineer Kamal Wanniarachchi
Social Activist Manjula Gajanayake
Journalist Manjula Wediwardhana
Social Activist Udaya Kalupathirana
Economist Umesh Moramudali
Social Activist Sandaya Eknaligoda
Journalist Poddala Jayantha
Journalist Thushara Weerarathna
Journalist Jini Jayasekara
Journalist R. Yasiharan
Social Activist Saman Senevirathna