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Centre for Policy Alternatives Raises Concerns Over Enactment of Online Safety Act in Sri Lanka

In a press statement released today, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) expressed deep concern over the process followed in enacting the Online Safety Act (OSA) in Sri Lanka. The organization raised serious questions about the implications of the law-making process on constitutional democracy in the country.

The CPA highlighted the lack of transparency in the drafting of the OSA, noting that the process was shrouded in secrecy. The rushed passage of the law also raised concerns about the government’s intentions and its potential impact on fundamental rights and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

The press statement emphasized that the CPA had previously raised issues regarding the substance and process of the OSA, challenging its constitutionality. Despite these concerns, the government proceeded with the law, leading the CPA to condemn the enactment of what it describes as a draconian law that could further limit freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

Of particular concern to the CPA are the committee stage amendments made on January 24, 2024. The Supreme Court had ruled that 31 amendments were required for the passage of the Bill with a simple majority in Parliament. However, questions have been raised about the compliance with Article 78(3) of the Constitution, which stipulates that any amendment proposed to a Bill in Parliament should not deviate from the merits and principles of the Bill.

The CPA noted that the committee stage amendments proposed were substantial alterations, necessitating the withdrawal and re-gazetting of the Bill. Despite this, the government proceeded without adopting mandatory changes required by the Supreme Court. Concerns were also raised about the inclusion of vague terminology and the failure to exempt certain services, as directed by the Supreme Court.

The press statement emphasized that the government’s rush to enact the OSA and its disregard for the Supreme Court determination have led to a constitutional crisis, questioning the legality of the law. The CPA warns that by intentionally undermining the determination of the Supreme Court, the government is setting a dangerous precedent that could have implications for the rule of law and the separation of powers in Sri Lanka.

In response to these concerns, the CPA urged the government to review both the process and substance of the OSA. The organization called for immediate steps to repeal the law and urged the introduction of a new law that genuinely addresses online safety concerns. Additionally, the CPA called for a transparent and inclusive law-making process, citing examples such as the enactment of the Personal Data Protection Act No. 09 of 2022 and the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016, where sufficient time was taken to ensure transparency and consideration of diverse viewpoints.

The CPA concludes by stating that such practices of good governance are fundamental for Sri Lanka’s present stage of recovery and reform.

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