Colombo Telegraph

Civil Society Urges Govt. To Withdraw Bills Criminalizing Hate Speech

93 Civil Society activists and 10 organisations have today urged the government to fulfil its obligations to its citizens and its international obligations by withdrawing the bills (amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure and amendment to the Penal Code ) forthwith and commit anew to fostering a political culture conducive to the exercise of citizens’ free speech rights.

We publish below the statement in full;

Joint civil society statement on amendment to Penal Code criminalizing hate speech

We the under signed organizations and individuals are deeply concerned about two Bills tabled in Parliament on Friday, 11th December 2015 ostensibly to criminalize hate speech and the instigation of communal violence and disharmony. One such Bill tabled is an amendment to the Penal Code which creates the new offence of “causing of or instigating acts of violence, hostility…” which is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years. The other Bill is an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure which provides for the conditions necessary for the initiation of prosecutions for the new offence.

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). Furthermore, 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. Furthermore there is 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 criminalizing “hate speech” as there are several legal provisions that already do so. The provisions contained in the ICCPR Act 56 of 2007 already criminalize advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The Penal Code provides for the offences of “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings”(Section 291A), “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class, by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” (Section 291B). Furthermore the Penal Code provides for several other offences to protect places of religious worship and religious assembly. These offences themselves already constitute a serious curtailment of the freedom of expression.

Given the multiplicity of laws in Sri Lanka dealing with what could broadly be termed hate speech, our view is that attacks targeting particular religious groups were not the result of a lack of legislation to prosecute perpetrators, but of the selective implementation of existing laws and the lack of political will to implement those laws against the purveyors of violent hate. In these circumstances, we urge the government to fulfil its obligations to its citizens and its international obligations by withdrawing the bills forthwith and commit anew to fostering a political culture conducive to the exercise of citizens’ free speech rights.

Signatories 
Individuals

Ainslie Joseph – Convenor, Christian Alliance for Social Action
Annouchka Wijesinghe
Aruni Jayakody
B. Gowthaman
Balasingham Skanthakumar
Bhavani Fonseka – Attorney-at-Law
Bishop Duleep de Chickera
Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
Brito Fernando
Caryll Tozer
Chameera Perera – Left Center
Chandra Jayaratne
Chandraguptha Thenuwara
Chulani Kodikara
D.B.S. Jeyaraj – Journalist
Deanne Uyangoda
Dr. Farzana Haniffa – Senior Lecturer, Sociology – University of Colombo
Dr. Jehan Perera
Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara – University of Colombo
Dr. L. Solomons
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
Dr. S.B. Dhanapala
Dr. Shamala Kumar – University of Peradeniya
Faizun Zackariya – Citizens Voice
Gajen Mahendra
Gamini Viyangoda
Gayathri Gamage
Godfrey Yogarajah – Executive Director, Religious Liberty Commission & World Evangelical Alliance
Gowrie Ponniah
Hans Billimoria
Harini Amarasuriya
Herman Kumara
Iromi Perera
Ishan Jalill – Founder and Executive Director, Action Against Apathy
Jake Oorloff
Jeanne Samuel
Joe William
Jovita Arulanantham
K. Aingkaran
Kalani Subasinghe
Kumari Kumaragamage
Kusal Perera – Journalist
Lakshan Dias – Attorney-at-Law
Lionel Guruge
Luwie Ganeshathasan – Attorney-at-Law
Mala Liyanage
Manouri Muttetuwegama
Marisa de Silva
Mujeebur Rahman – Journalist (Mannar)
Nalini Ratnarajah – Woman Human Rights Defender
Nigel Nugawela
Nilantha Ilangamuwa – Journalist and Editor, Sri Lanka Guardian
Nimalka Fernando
Niran Anketell – Attorney-at-Law
P. Selvaratnam
Paba Deshapriya
Philip Setunga
Prof. Jayantha Seneviratne – University of Kelaniya
Prof. S. Sivamohan
Qadri Ismail
R.M.B Senanayake – Retired C.C.S
Rev. Br. Loyola Fernando FSC
Rev. Dr. Jayasiri T. Peiris – Friday Forum
Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
Rev. Fr. T.L.R. Dominic
Rev. Jason Selvaraja – Assembly of God, Chavakachcheri
Ronnie Yogarajah
Ruki Fernando
S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
S. Samaraarachchi
S.C.C. Elankovan
Sabra Zahid
Sampath Samarakoon
Sanjana Hattotuwa – Founding Editor, Groundviews.org
Sanjayan Rajasingham
Shakthi Ponniah
Shashika Bandara
Sheila Richards
Shreen Abdul Saroor
Sriyanie Wijesundara
Sudarshana Gunawardana – Attorney-at-Law
Sunanda Deshapriya
Sunethra Bandaranaike
Suren D. Perera – Human Rights Lawyer and Activist
Suriya Wickremasinghe
T. Mathuri – Attorney-at-Law
Tanuja Thurairajah
Tehani Ariyaratne
Thyagi Ruwanpathirana
Udaya Kalupathirana
Visaka Dharmadasa
Waruna Padmasiri – Attorney-at-Law

Organizations

Association of War Affected Women (AWAW)
Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
Families of the Disappeared (FoD)
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Law and Society Trust (LST)
National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)
National Peace Council (NPC)
Right to Life (R2L) Human Rights Centre
Rights Now Collective for Democracy
Women’s Action Network (WAN)

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