Two petitions in SC against Govt. amendments to Penal Code on hate speech

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 00:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Petitioner argues new provision replicates PTA provision leading to arrest of critics during previous administration 

By Dharisha Bastians 

Two petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Government’s proposed amendments to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, criminalising hate speech on the grounds that the provisions are identical to sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act that allowed state to arrest and detain critics, including Journalist J.S. Tissanayagam and Azath Salley. 

The petition has been filed by Editor of the Sudar Oli newspaper, Arun Arokianathan, citing the Attorney General as respondent in the case.  The petitioner argues that a new offence will be brought into the Penal Code under the draft legislation, as Section 290c, which reads: Whoever, by the use of words spoken, written or intended to be read, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, intends to cause or attempts to cause or instigates or attempts to instigate, acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony, or feelings of ill-will or hostility, between communities or different classes of persons or different racial or religious groups, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years. 

The Editor in Chief of Sudar Oli argues that the new proposed provision replicates Section 2(1)(h) of the PTA. 

This section of the draconian anti-terror laws were used to arrest, detain and convict Journalist Tissanayagam and politician Azath Salley. Tissanayagam was sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment after his conviction under the PTA provision. 

Arokianathan argues in his petition that Sri Lanka has the necessary laws to prosecute persons engaging in hate speech or inciting communal violence, under the terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act of 2007. The petitioner states that the inclusion of Section 291C into the Penal Code is inconsistent with Article 10 -relating to the freedom of religious worship - and Article 14 (1) (a) - relating to the freedom of speech - in the Sri Lankan Constitution. 

The Sudar Oli Editor in his petition, appeals to the Supreme Court to declare the Bill to amend the Penal Code Section as inconsistent with Article 10 and Article 14 (1) (a) of the constitution, and communicate that declaration to the Speaker of Parliament. 

Senior human rights lawyer and TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran will appear on behalf of the petitioner, Arokianathan in both cases, filed against the Penal Code amendment and the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code, filed in the Supreme Court yesterday.