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Online Safety Bill is reminiscence of Censorship against media, civil society, says Eran

Eran Wickramarathne MP outlining the dangers of the proposed Online Safety Bill hastily proposed by the government warned that it could leave room for violating Article 12 (1) of the Constitution in different ways. This law prescribes there can be criminal liability for somebody who breaks this law. If somebody makes a false statement there is a criminal liability on such a person which is unprecedented in a democracy. Therefore he urged the government not to rush but instead subject the legislation to more discussion.

It is true when a false statement is made there should be a way to correct them instead, making the person liable to criminal offence under the Online Safety Bill is unacceptable. 

Referring to his own experience, the MP described how he was subject to injustices under the hands of security personnel when he said there was a big brain behind Easter Sunday Attack. “The CID asked me to name the Big Brain. I retorted back and told them, as a politician, I am there only to question and it was incumbent upon the CID to find who the big brain was. To my astonishment two days later social media had published news that I have connections with terrorists and so on. He said later he contacted owners of those social media platforms and got those stories removed. This is the way one can deal with false stories propagating intentionally.“ he said 

When laws with such liability clauses, are passed you can use it against innocent people, journalists, civil society but you never use it against politicians. We are in 15 years after the murder of journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga and many others. Investigations have been done the files have gone to Attorney –General. But no court cases have been initiated. It looks that AG’s department is very weak and slow on instituting court cases even though they were aware that who the culprit is. 

The proviso in the online safety Bill making false statement as criminal liability is totally unacceptable as it is rekindle of Censorship against media and the civil society. The intermediaries such a Facebook, Instagram are also become liable according to the Bill. If this Online Act had been in existence during the ‘aragalaya’ protest period they all would have been taken into custody for having dissenting opinion, that is why this law is perceived as a dangerous law, this piece of law very clearly violates the Article 12 (1) of the constitution very clearly. Therefore, Wickramaratne urged the government to postpone bringing this Bill for second reading in Parliament next week instead subject it to discourse and discussion among different stake holders. .

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