Lawyers raise concerns over Emergency Regulations

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In a backdrop of the Security Forces being ordered to open fire on rioters, lawyers raised concerns over the recently declared Emergency Regulations,observing that it gives tremendous executive powers of control, directed at protests and strikes.

Attorney-at-Law and activist Ermiza Tegal observed that the powers of arrest, under the new Emergency Regulations,are overly broad given the long list of offences, adding that armed forces are empowered to arrest and investigate in a manner that contravenes international standards. She added that a stark absence of requirements to protect human rights of citizens could be observed.

Tegal noted that freedom of assembly related regulations are also heavily disproportionate to context and imposes heavy penalty. She added that the regulations on detention are heavily disproportionate and is decentralised to DIGs for first time in Sri Lanka and fails to safeguard the human rights of citizens.

She further noted that the regulations create a culture of surveillance,as the failure to give information to the local Grama Niladhari and to the local Police and the failure to give information or deliver any document or thing, to the Police or person authorised, is termed as an offence under the Emergency Regulations.

“It is very concerning that this regulation specifically states that it applies to persons irrespective of the capacity in which such person has received such information or knowledge of the contents of such document,” she added.

She noted that the Emergency Regulations could also be used to compel lawyers and doctors to divulge confidential information and documents received in confidence and thereby creates in effect a culture and system of suspicion and surveillance.

“Over fifty offences are specified in the ER. Some offences are offences under the Penal Code and have been recast as offences carrying life or 20-year imprisonment,” she added.

Tegal said the Emergency Regulations also provide for the expansion of the President’s power and reach to appoint a Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) to coordinate essential services, to appoint a Coordinator-in-Chief to supervise Coordinating Officers and to appoint Coordinating Officers with same powers as GA.

“The above essentially creates a highly centralised administrative structure. Considering the President’s own background and depending on the appointments made, this structure could look very military like,” she added.

By Faadhila Thassim