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MINISTRY of JUSTICE LEGAL REFORMS: Sudden withdrawal of prohibition of obscene publications

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by Kalyananda Tiranagama

Executive Director

Lawyers for Human Rights and Development

The Ministry of Justice has published in the Gazette on December 24, 2021 the Prohibition of Obscene Publications Bill aimed at prohibiting the publication, distribution, sale, import and export of any matter, object or thing which is obscene. The Bill was to be enacted to curb child pornography as well as to safeguard those who fall victim to harassment and exploitation due to absence of strict laws to deal with offenders.

The word ‘obscene’ has been described in the Bill as ‘any matter, object or thing, which by itself or where it comprises more than one distinct component taken by itself, is sufficient to deprave and corrupt the mind of a reasonable person, but does not include any matter, object or thing containing anything done in the interest of science, literature, art, education or learning’.

As reported in the press, in a dramatic turn of events, the Bill has been withdrawn by the Minister of Justice just 48 hours after its publication. The Secretary to the Ministry has stated that the decision to withdraw the Bill was taken due to concerns raised by civil society activists and other stakeholders, objecting to the bill on several grounds including copyrights. An amended Bill will be presented to Cabinet for approval, once discussions are held with interested parties, including the BASL.

This is an amendment long overdue. To combat increasing sexual abuse of women and children, there is an urgent need of strengthening the law against obscene publications.

On a perusal of Police statistics relating to sexual offences against women and children during the last 25 years, it clearly appears that there has been a continuous increase in the number of sexual offences against women and children.

There are a large number of obscene and pornographic publications brought out in our country. There can be no doubt that the pornographic and obscene material easily available in our society have heavily contributed to the continuous increase in the number of sexual offences against women and children throughout the country.

Soft pornographic materials openly displayed and freely available throughout the country are more harmful than hard pornographic publications which have a very limited circulation, being patently illegal and circulated stealthily.

Much of the material contained in the soft pornographic publications will have a destructive effect in the long term on the reader, corrupting his mind and debasing his character. Any person including children can have easy access to them.

Soft pornographic publications can have the effect of: a. Corrupting the minds of those who read them; b. Destroying the moral base of the society; c. Prompting children to prematurely engage in sex; d. Promoting sexual abuse of women and children; e. Promoting perverse sexual habits; and f. Promoting prostitution.

Existing Law on Obscene Publications

Legal provisions dealing with obscene publications in Sri Lanka are found in Sections 285 and 286 of the Penal Code and in the Obscene Publications Ordinance No. 4 of 1927 as amended by Act No. 22 of 1983. Two new Sections -S. 286A and S. 360B. were introduced by the 1995 Amendment to the Penal Code. While Sections 285 and 286 deal with printing, importing, distribution, sale and possession of obscene publications in general, sections 286A and 360B deal with employing, using or permitting children to appear or perform in obscene or indecent exhibitions, shows or photographs.

A. Penal Code Provisions:

S. 285 Whoever sells or distributes, imports, or prints for sale or hire, or willfully exhibits to public view, any obscene book, pamphlet, paper drawing, painting, photograph, representation or figure or attempts or offers so to do, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months or with fine or both.

S. 286 Whoever has in his possession any such obscene book or other thing as is mentioned in the last preceding section shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three months or with fine, or with both.

S. 286A (1) Any person who –

(a)

hires, employs, assists, persuades, uses, induces or coerces any child to appear or perform in any obscene or indecent exhibition or show or to pose or model for or to appear in, any obscene or indecent photograph or film or who sells or distributes, or otherwise publishes, or has in his possession, any such photograph or film; or

(b)

being a parent, guardian or person having the custody of a child, causes or allows such child to be employed, or to participate, in any obscene or indecent exhibition or show or to pose or model for or to appear in, any obscene or indecent photograph or film as is referred to in paragraph (a);

(i)

takes or assists in taking of any indecent photographs of a child; or

(ii)

distributes or shows any such photograph or any publication containing such photograph;

(iii)

has in his possession for distribution or showing, any such photograph or publication;

(iv)

publishes or causes to be published, any such photograph or publishes or causes to be published, any advertisement capable of conveying the message that the advertiser or person named in the advertisement distributes or shows any such photograph or any publication or intends to do so –

commits the offence of obscene publication and exhibition relating to children and shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not less than two years and not exceeding ten years and may also be punished with a fine.

(2)

In this section – “child means ‘a person under eighteen years of age; and ‘film’ includes ‘any form of video recording’.

S. 360B (1) Whoever –

(a)

knowingly permits any child to remain in any premises, for the purposes of causing such child to be sexually abused or to participate in any form of sexual activity or in any obscene or indecent exhibition or show;

(b)

acts as a procurer of a child for the purposes of sexual intercourse or for any form of sexual abuse;

©

induces a person to be a client of a child for sexual intercourse or for any form of sexual abuse, by means of print or other media, oral advertisements or other similar means;

(d)

takes advantage of his influence over, or his relationship to, a child, to procure such child for sexual intercourse or for any form of sexual abuse;

(e)

threatens or uses violence towards a child to procure such child for sexual intercourse or for any form of sexual abuse;

(f)

gives monetary consideration, goods or other benefits to a child or his parents with intent to procure such child for sexual intercourse or for any form of sexual abuse, – commits the offence of ‘sexual exploitation of children’ and shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not less than five years and not exceeding twenty years and may also be punished with a fine.

B. Obscene Publications Ordinance Provisions

S. 2 It shall be an offence against this Ordinance punishable on conviction by a Magistrate –

(1)

for the first offence, with a fine not exceeding two thousand rupees (one thousand rupees before the (1983) amendment) or imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months (three months before the amendment), or with both such fine and imprisonment; and

(2)

for a subsequent offence committed after a conviction for the first offence, with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months and in addition with a fine not exceeding two thousand rupees, to do any of the following acts namely : –

(a)

for purposes of or by way of trade or for distribution or public exhibition to make or produce or have in possession for purposes stated or otherwise, obscene writings, drawings, prints, paintings, printed matter, pictures, posters, emblems, photographs, cinematographs films, video cassettes or any other obscene objects;

(b)

for the purposes above mentioned to import, convey or export or cause to be imported, conveyed, or exported any of the said obscene matters or things, or in any manner whatsoever to put them into circulation;

(c)

to carry on or take part in a business, whether public or private, concerned with any of the said obscene matters or things, or to deal in the said matters or things in any manner whatsoever, or to distribute them or to exhibit them publicly or to make a business of lending them;

(d)

to advertise or make known by any means whatsoever, in view of assisting in the said punishable circulation or traffic, that a person is engaged in any of the above punishable acts, or to advertise or to make known how or from whom the said obscene matters or things can be procured either directly or indirectly.

(To be continued)



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Features

BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Features

Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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