Main opposition demands Govt. withdraw draft bill tabled by Justice Minister
Notes provisions on hate speech identical to language in PTA
Recalls scribe Tissanayagam, Azath Salley arrested under same hate speech provisions in PTA by former Govt.
The main opposition Tamil National Alliance has strongly opposed proposed amendments to the Penal Code, draft legislation that was tabled in Parliament by Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakse last Friday (11) and called on the Government to withdraw the bill immediately.
The TNA in a statement said the Bill seeks to introduce a new provision (Section 291C) to the Penal Code, No. 11 of 1887 and observed that the proposed Section 291C was nearly identical to Section 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 (PTA).
“The previous Government used this very provision to target persons from the Tamil and Muslim communities and to deprive them of their freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the main opposition party said in its statement.
“We recall that Tamil journalist J. S. Tissainayagam was convicted by the High Court of Colombo and sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment under Section 2(1)(h) of the PTA. We also recall that Muslim politician Azath Salley was arrested and detained under Section 2(1)(h) of the PTA. Both these persons were critical of the previous Government’s policies, particularly with respect to the treatment of minority communities,” the TNA statement said.
The main opposition party noted that these incidents and others like them had prompted international condemnation of the previous Government’s use of the PTA to suppress media freedom and dissent.
“We therefore wish to state that we strongly oppose the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill on the grounds that it is inconsistent with Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution, which guarantees to every citizen the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression including publication,” the statement said.
The TNA recalled that the present Government recently co-sponsored Resolution 30/1 adopted at the 30th session of United Nations Human Rights Council. “Operative Paragraph 12 of the Resolution refers to the present Government’s commitment: ‘to review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and to replace it with anti-terrorism legislation in accordance with contemporary international best practices’. Section 291C of the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill directly contravenes this commitment,” the TNA statement charged. The party said that Sri Lanka was capable of dealing with hate speech and attempts to stir communal hatred under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act of 2007. Section 3(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, No. 56 of 2007 provides: ‘No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, the TNA statement explains.
The Tamil Party said that the High Court was vested with jurisdiction to try offenders under this Act. “Therefore, there is absolutely no need to introduce new legislation on hate speech,” the TNA said. (DB)
Civil society groups oppose Penal Code amendments
New provisions to criminalise hate speech mimic PTA provisions used to arrest Journalist Tissanayagam, NGOs and leading rights activists say
A large group of civil society groups and individuals have opposed the Government’s proposed amendments to the Penal Code to criminalise hate speech, insisting that the provisions are identical to those in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) used to harass and detain critics during the former regime.
In a statement released yesterday, civil society voices said two bills had been tabled in Parliament last Friday (11), ostensibly to criminalise hate speech and the instigation of communal violence and disharmony.
“The new offence under the Penal Code is particularly problematic as it is a near verbatim reproduction of the language in Section 2(1) (h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The offence as provided in the Bill is overbroad and general, and is not a permissible restriction in relation to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” the civil society statement said.
It added that the proposed amendment, if enacted, could lead to a culture of self-censorship and perpetuate a chilling effect on free speech. “We note that Section 2(1) (h) of the PTA was previously used to convict journalist J. S. Tissainayagam for his journalistic writing on alleged war crimes committed by Government forces. This overbroad restriction on the freedom of expression is in no way defensible in a democratic society,” the statement charged.
The civil society petition added that there was a very real possibility, as demonstrated by past experience, that this legislation could be used by Governments to target political opponents and those critical of Government policy.
“We the undersigned question the need for new legislation criminalising “hate speech” as there are several legal provisions that already do so,” the statement said.(DB)