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Police could misuse “fake news” allegations to stifle free speech: Sri Lanka Bar Association

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has expressed deep concern that a recently announced decision to arrest people who share “fake news” on social media could be misused by police to stifle free speech.

“Whilst the BASL has no objection to enforcing laws relating to hate speech and incitement to voilence, it is important to ensure that authorities do not use such laws to stifle genuine expression of dissent and criticism,” the BASL said in a statement on June 11.

The BASL is apprehensive of the executive including the police being allowed to decide on what is or is not fake news and on the basis of their subjective decisions to cause arrests and detention of persons, it said.

“The BASL is deeply concerned that the provisions of the laws mentioned in the circular could be misused by police officers in order to stifle the freedom of speech and expression which is a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution. At a time when the country remains under travel restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that freedom of speech and expression of the people and their right to dissent and disagree are protected,” it said.

In its statement, the BASL cited judgements of the Supreme Court in this regard, where Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare held on February 17, 2021 that: “The judgements of the Supreme Court constitute a body of jurisprudence that has evolved over the years, and the Supreme Court has recognised that the right to comment on public issues and criticise public officials and public institutions is essential for the exercise of civil and political freedoms so valued by democratic society.”

The court quoted with approval the following passages found in several decisions of Sri Lankan courts, the BASL said:

“The right to support or to criticise governments and political parties, policies and programmes is fundamental to the democratic way of life; …and democracy requires not merely that dissent be tolerated, but that it be encouraged”

“Criticism of the Government, and of political parties and policies, is per se, a permissible exercise of the freedom of speech and expression under Article14 (1) (a).”

Given that the very prospect of being arrested for expressing harsh criticism or dissent can itself have a chilling effect that would erode the citizens’ freedom to openly share critical views or freely comment on important matters as members/stakeholders of society, the Bar said, utmost care and restraint should be exercised in causing the arrest of any person for an offence pertaining to alleged ‘fake news’ prior to a full investigation of any complaint.

“It would be consistent with due respect for democratic values and freedoms, for any decision to arrest without warrant to be resorted to keeping in mind the spirit of preserving fundamental freedoms and the need to avoid suppressing or oppressing the right to free expression of views. In our view this would be better achieved, if any decision to arrest or charge any person is taken only after careful due consideration and professional assessment that there is a real and reasonable prospect of an alleged offence in law being committed, with advice from the Attorney General as may be warranted in the relevant context.”

“Needless to say, enforcement of the law must be fair, even-handed and non-selective in its application, the importance of which we urge you to consistently uphold,” it added.

(ECONOMYNEXT)



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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