17 June, 2019

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CPA Wants Govt. To Desist From Introducing ‘Defame The Original Teachings And Traditions Of The Major Religions’ Law

“Desist from introducing the draft Bill on new laws seeking action against publications that ‘defame the original teachings and traditions of the major religions’ the Centre for Policy Alternatives today urges government. 

Issuing a statement CPA says;” If the government is truly serious about arresting the rise of religious extremism and intolerance and promoting religious co-existence, it should: Take immediate steps to implement the LLRC recommendations on promoting religious harmony and co-existence, which call for establishing a mechanism in consultation with inter-faith groups that can serve as an early warning and diffusing system of potential religious tension, and which has not been included in the government’s LLRC Action Plan.”

We publish below the statement in full;

Put an end to the culture of impunity and ensure that law enforcement authorities investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of attacks on places of religious worship.

to Parliament. We also call on all those concerned with the rule of law, fundamental rights and religious harmony in Sri Lanka to prevail on the government that the draft Bill – and the motives for its introduction – are utterly unacceptable.CPA therefore calls on the government to

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is deeply concerned by reports that the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs is to introduce new laws seeking action against publications that ‘defame the original teachings and traditions of the major religions’. These reports state that as a first step, a draft Bill providing for the establishment of a ‘Buddhist Publications Regulatory Board’ that will be empowered to regulate any publication purportedly ‘in violation of Buddhism, its philosophy or traditions,’ has been sent to the Attorney General for review. We are at a loss to understand how such a measure is a priority, when so many other matters demanding the urgent attention of the government in respect of communal reconciliation and amity have not received the same consideration, including implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on promoting religious harmony. CPA also notes the context in which these measures are proposed is one in which national security considerations, as defined by the government, consistently override democratic freedoms, and serious incursions are being made into academic freedom and minority cultural rights.

Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu - Executive Director CPA

The Bill, if enacted into law, will stamp a further official seal of approval on Sri Lanka’s slide towards majoritarian religious extremism and sectarian violence. The recent upsurge in ultranationalist violence by certain Buddhist groups, marked by numerous attacks on Islamic and Christian places of worship, threatens to further undermine the fragile peace in post-war Sri Lanka. There is a very real danger that by seeking to protect ‘the original teachings and traditions’ of religions, the Bill will lead to the arbitrary imposition of government-sanctioned versions of religious belief on the public and effectively prohibit theological teaching, academic inquiry or critical commentary, across all media, that questions government orthodoxy. Inevitably, the passage of the Bill will seriously threaten efforts to interpret religious teaching in a manner that is respectful of dialogue and tolerance.

The draft Bill, if enacted, will also manifestly violate Article 10 of the Constitution, which guarantees to any person the ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.’ The Constitution, it is important to recall, does not permit any restriction whatsoever on this fundamental right. The measure would also have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression including publication protected by Article 14 of the Constitution, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sri Lanka is a state-party. In our contention, neither the Constitution nor the ICCPR permits the wide variety of potential restrictions on the freedom of expression that may be imposed by the new measures, including of course, the scope for abuse that is inherent in any attempt at state regulation of religious faith and morality.

CPA also notes that existing legislation already prohibits the inciting of violence through hate speech. Section 3 of the ICCPR Act of 2007 prohibits the advocacy of ‘national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.’ In this respect, we are concerned that the proposed Bill will be selectively applied to harass and persecute dissenting voices. We are mindful that section 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) that prohibits speech which ‘causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups’ has been exclusively used in the recent past to detain and prosecute journalists and opponents of the regime; including Jayaprakash Tissainayagam, Sarath Fonseka and more recently, Azath Salley. Yet, the same provisions have not been used to prohibit and prosecute brazen acts of physical violence on places of minority religious worship. This history of selective application of other restrictions on free speech seriously calls into question the motives behind the introduction of the instant draft Bill.

CPA therefore calls on the government to desist from introducing the draft Bill to Parliament. We also call on all those concerned with the rule of law, fundamental rights and religious harmony in Sri Lanka to prevail on the government that the draft Bill – and the motives for its introduction – are utterly unacceptable.

CPA further recommends that if the government is truly serious about arresting the rise of religious extremism and intolerance and promoting religious co-existence, it should:

  • Take immediate steps to implement the LLRC recommendations on promoting religious harmony and co-existence, which call for establishing a mechanism in consultation with inter-faith groups that can serve as an early warning and diffusing system of potential religious tension, and which has not been included in the government’s LLRC Action Plan.
  • Put an end to the culture of impunity and ensure that law enforcement authorities investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of attacks on places of religious worship.
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Latest comments

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    Just before last Eastern Provincial council election a Mosque in Dambulla was attacked. The NP election is just around the corner. A Mosque in Colombo is attacked.

    Only party that benefit are those who make a living on promoting racism, the Tamil Congress and Moslem Congress.

    /*
    If the government is truly serious about arresting the rise of religious extremism and intolerance and promoting religious co-existence …
    */

    If the govt is truly serious about extremism it should ban all racial and religious parties.

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      Both “Tamil Congress and Moslem Congress” have never been in power in Sri Lanka. But both UNP and SLFP held power over the years and blatantly responsible for enacting and promoting racist policies. The current MR regime is racist to the core. Wake up mister; you made an empty utterance!

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        /*
        Both “Tamil Congress and Moslem Congress” have never been in power
        */

        Well, there you go. “Tamil Kingdom” in Jaffna “Federal State” in Colombo. If you were lazy what would you do in this case? You’d play to the gallery with your cultural superiority isnt it? What I like to know is how much are they paying the rouge monks to throw stones at Mosques.

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      Do the Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton test for the religions.

      Those who pass, show validity, can practice.

      Others who fail, can work at it until they pass, i.e. come up with proof.

      Will Nirvana, Nibbana, Sansara, Rebirth, Heaven. Hell, Limbo and Purgatory will all pass? There are serious doubts.

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        Even the Buddha told to enquire some thing before acceptance and not to follow tradition.
        Believe it is in Kalamana sutta. So the law is against Buddhism. By bringing in tradition someone is trying to hijack Buddhism and make a new religion named Srilankan Sinhala Buddhism.
        If the law is applied to the letter, I am sure the next Buddha if born in Srilanka will be jailed. Probably will not chose Srilanka as a place of birth when he evaluates options from heaven.

        This law is the same law that during Moses and Jesus time was applied and babies were buried alive.

        Now we know from where these ideas are coming.

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      A party does not become racial or religious in merely a name. Have we not seen the racialist undertones of so called secular parties who have been in power, since 1956. It is this duplicity that leads to the formation of parties to look after the interests of the neglected minorities. If the government s serious about extremism they should stop providing support to all extremist groups, like the BBS.

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      /*Only party that benefit are those who make a living on promoting racism, the Tamil Congress and Moslem Congress.*/

      There are 70% of budhhists and only 10% muslims.
      Government attacking muslims and getting all the Buddhist votes is the strategy of UPFA.

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    It seems that this government is trying to take us to the medieval age, with inquisition, this will lead to talibanisation of all religions.

    After all who is the authority to determine which teachings are original or not? This is shear madness and go against both religious freedoms and the freedom of expression.

    We cannot depend on the courts prevent this. The opposition (UNP, UJVP, SF, TNA, SLMC) and other prominent people should state their position clearly on this issue.

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    Most of the Original Teachings And Traditions Of The Major Religions are basically dogmas. Any rationally thinking person has to question these dogmas and beliefs. To me no belief is sacrosanct if human civilization is to progress.

    History is replete with examples of brilliant thinkers who significantly advanced human civilization: Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin are shining examples of those who contributed immensely to the advancement of science and knowledge who questioned the existing religious thinking and traditions of the times they lived in.

    I can imagine the motive behind this “blasphemy” law, if it can be called that, is to find fault with religions other than Buddhism, when it is applied selectively, as done today with existing laws.

    God save Sri Lanka from going backwards into the dark ages!

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    What could be the real purpose of this proposed law?

    Could ‘Defame The Original Teachings And Traditions Of The Major Religions Law’ be used to prevent Christian fundamentalists from preaching? Could it be used to ban the ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islam that is spreading from Saudi Arabia?

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      Yes it could be used to ban the Church of England, Protestants, Mahayana, and also the Ramanna Nikaya in which non-govigamas are allowed to become a buddhist priest.

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    Blasphemy law rears its ugly head in Sri Lanka.We see the same outside Sri Lanka; Hindu supremacists in India and Islamic supremacists in many countries use such laws to persecute minorities.

    The most important component of a relatively free society is Freedom of Speech.

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    Oh dear. We’ll be getting thought police next. I spose I’d better hide all my Rickie Dawson stuff now, or risk being taken to court by ALL the religions!

    Didnt someone in the 1980s get arrested for possessing a book on the The Industrial revolution — probably by Eric Hosbawm.

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    Recommended reading for MPs — well, for those who can READ it…so bookshops, dont count on a big sale — JOSEPH ANTON by Salman Rushdie. I never cared for the guy much earlier — tho I DO go for his books — but the tale of his years in hiding make me like him a lot more, I must say.

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    DID NOT REALIZE BUDDHISM WAS SO FRAGILE NEEDING BIGGOT LAWS
    BUDDHA WOULD NOT APPROVE THIS
    HENCE, THIS LAW IS A DEFAMATION OF THE ORIGINAL TEACHINGS

    empty vessels wobble

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    Where is our holier than thou liberal Rajiva mahattaya on this issue. dayan mahattaya will not even comment. why? Greed. I would really like to hear a word or two from these two on this issue. But don’t believe that they will comment because the project is Rajapaksa’s. They will be the first to comment if it comes from elsewhere. Selfish b……………..s.

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    There is a madness in this government. In it’s ignorance it does not appear to know that it cannot be the arbiter of what the original teachings are. One positive point: the legal arguments in court will be most interesting and enlightening, and may be with luck, we may arrive at the truth or otherwise of the “original teachings”! Not only that, before we introduce this piece of legislation, we must first include in the Act what the original teachings are. That is going to take at least a few decades to compile.

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    This is another Bill intending to place further strangleholds on democracy and freedom of expression. If an action results in defaming personal beliefs or inciting violence thereby, then that needs relevant deterrent counter-action. However, the risk of passing such a generalized Bill will result in imposing restrictions and meting out punishment for genuine counter-opinions and free expression of opinions. What we have today are interpretations of “original” teachings. Who is to know what the real, original teachings are? Has not The Buddha himself stated not to accept any teachings or authority blindly but to enquire, question and satisfy for one’s own self the validity of such teachings and apply it. In the modern age we could even be open to counter opinions to help us arrive at our own conclusions. This Bill if passed, will stifle such counter opinions. After all, whatever is the truth will prevail.

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    Another way to introduce Monkish Rule to go with Modaya rule of Mahinda Kotiya!

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    Before any bills on deformation of established Religions we should have interfaith dialogue to obtain guidelines for a common spiritual identity. Reasons for interfaith conflict should be identified and a consensus should be reached. A presidential commission is necessary. Arbitrary circulars by the Buddhist affairs ministry should be suspended. Constitutional changes to strengthen protection of all Religions should be proposed by the proposed Presidential Commission.

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    A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.

    Henry A. Wallace

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