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Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country and we must learn to respect each other and live peacefully: BASL President

Kalinga Indatissa 700 02
Bar Association of Sri Lanka President Kalinga Indatissa has observed that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country, at least for the last 700 years, and it is a fact that no one can deny. We are all one and if we are all one, we must learn to live either through the operation of law or through our own human conduct. As a multi-ethnic country we must learn to respect each other and live peacefully.

He made this observation addressing the public seminar on ‘Arrest, Detention under normal law, PTA and Emergency Regulations’ held under the patronage of the BASL at the BMCH recently.

The panel comprised of President’s Counsel and BASL Deputy President Shavindra Fernando; Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi; Deputy Inspector General and Attorney at Law Kamal Silva; and Deputy Inspector General and Attorney at Law Ajith Rohana.

During his address, Kalinga Indatissa said:

“There are adequate provisions in the existing law to deal with hate speech. If authorities want to seriously curtail hate speech, it can be done under Section 3 of the ICCPR Act and Act No. 14 of 1995 (the Evidence Ordinance). Police have a misconception that posts on social media cannot be dealt with. That is wrong. If I speak and if my speech falls under Section 3 of the ICCPR Act, you can prosecute me. What about a post on wall of Facebook which is also public? If you seriously want to curtain hate speech, we can bring that under Act No. 14 of 1995.

Anything on Facebook or other social media, which is an electronic medium can be dealt with. A posting on a wall of Facebook is equal to a publication, the only difference is the manner of publication. There is also a difference is the method of proof but relevant authorities should start filing test cases. Act No. 14 of 1995 will be endorsed by the court at some point of time.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, which advocates freedom of expression is abused, and some people use these to spread hatred targeting communities. Whether it’s community A, B, C or D, it is wrong. The same rules must apply to everyone. ICCPR Act was passed by Parliament in 2007. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the ICCPR on 15 December 1966 and the Act came into effect on 23 March 1976. Sri Lanka acceded to the Covenant on 11 June 1980.

When a country becomes a signatory to the Covenant under the UN, there is a requirement for the country to draft its domestic law to suit the Covenant and Sri Lanka passed the ICCPR Act in 2007, recognising fundamental rights of all Sri Lankans. However, this law has been very badly drafted. Any law introducing a fundamental right which is already not recognised must first introduce the fundamental rights but here what it says is “ No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

The law does not say clearly what advocating is in terms of this Act. Because there is no statutory definition of the term advocating, when a Police officer arrests a person, he must decide if the person who has a document, for example, advocating incitement to discrimination. An incitement to discrimination could be an instance where a person refuses to employ another because he or she belongs to a particular community. If I make an oral statement that I am not giving a particular person a job because he is a Sinhalese or a Muslim, I am liable to be punished under this law. An oral statement is enough as you advocate hatred. If I publish the same too, I am liable for punishment.”



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