Sri Lanka to scale back emergency laws: minister

May 4, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s foreign minister pledged Tuesday that the country’s tough emergency laws introduced in 1983 to fight a raging Tamil insurgency would be gradually withdrawn. France had led international calls to scrap the emergency laws soon after the defeat of the rebels.

Since then, Sri Lanka’s parliament has kept extending the state of emergency each month as the government has argued that rebel remnants have tried to make a comeback.

The emergency has also been used in the past to impose press censorship, arrest and detain journalists, shut down newspapers and introduce curfews.

Opposition parties and international human rights groups have accused the government of using the laws to suppress legitimate dissent and freedom of expression. “There cannot be a wholesale lifting of the emergency. It will be done part by part,” External Affairs Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris told parliament during a debate on the laws.

He proposed that provisions prohibiting public gatherings and publications the state considered inflamatory were to be relaxed, while police powers vested with the armed forces would also be taken away.

The changes are set to be