BASL Raises Concern Over Contents
While raising concerns over the contents of a statement, issued by the Sri Lanka Police, titled “circulation of fake news, photographs, videos causing disunity, hate and obstructing the Covid-19 programme,” the Executive Committee of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) stated the Laws mentioned in the release could be misused by Police officers to suppress freedom of speech.
The BASL noted that at a time when the country remains under travel restrictions, it is essential that the freedom of speech and expression of the people and their right to dissent and disagree are protected.
“The said statement contains a warning that the Criminal Investigation Department and the Computer Crimes Division of the Sri Lanka Police will be conducting investigations by monitoring the internet for violators, in order to enforce the law, whilst the BASL has no objection to enforcing laws relating to hate speech and incitement to violence, it is important to ensure that authorities do not use such laws to stifle genuine expressions of dissent and criticism,” the BASL added.
The BASL further raised concerns in relation to members 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.
“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,” the BASL noted. The BASL addressed a letter to the Inspector General of Police on 10 June raising concerns over the statement.