The March 12 Movement, a civic activist group in Sri Lanka, has strongly denounced the passage of the Online Safety Bill on January 24th, 2024, which they claim was done in an unlawful manner.
The group reiterates that the Online Safety Bill poses a grave threat to the fundamental rights and democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. They express regret that the current government’s adamant pursuit of this legislation indicates its intention to silence dissent and suppress civic activism during this critical time of economic reform and upcoming elections.
In addition to introducing what they call an undemocratic law, the March 12 Movement notes with grave concern that the parliament acted in violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to pre-enactment judicial review of legislation.
Several citizens and institutions sought the intervention of the Supreme Court to assess the constitutionality of the Online Safety Bill. The Supreme Court identified specific clauses requiring amendment before the bill’s passage. However, allegations suggest that crucial amendments outlined in the court’s recommendations were overlooked during the bill’s passage.
Concurrently, the government is pursuing further draconian laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Bill and Electronic Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Bill to silence and oppress people and dissident forces. In this distressing situation, the Online Safety Bill was debated in Parliament using standing orders and passed, potentially undermining the established Westminster-model parliamentary tradition.
While the citizens silently suffer amidst escalating cost of living and unmanageable hunger, the March 12 Movement warns that this silence does not equate to obedience, but is the precursor to a major backlash against the government’s coercive rule.
In light of these developments, the March 12 Movement respectfully urges the Speaker of Parliament to ensure that the amendments outlined in the Supreme Court’s judgment are fully incorporated into the Online Safety Bill. They stress that Parliament following due process when passing laws, and respecting the judiciary and the sovereignty of citizens, is essential to promote clean politics and reinforce democracy in Sri Lanka.
On behalf of the March 12 Movement, Nadishani Perera and Rohana Hettiarachchie, Co-conveners, issued this statement.