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Wednesday May 12th, 2021
Free Speech

15-17% of Sri Lanka’s social media activists fake, S’pore-style laws on the way: Justice Minister

Mohamed Ali Sabry PC/Facebook

ECONOMYNEX – Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister Ali Sabry defended a move to criminalise social media posts judged as ‘fake’ through a law to be styled after Singapore’s POFMA, a controversial piece of legislation that has drawn widespread criticism as a tool to control the media and free speech.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Sabry said discussions are under way at the cabinet level to introduce laws similar to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), a move the government of Sri Lanka has been contemplating since November last year.

The minister claimed that there are posts circulating online that paint the country in an unflattering light, constantly referring to Sri Lanka as an unlivable place.

“We won’t allow this to continue,” he said, arguing for the need to introduce a legal regime to contain it.

“The profiles of 15 to 17% of Sri Lanka’s social media activists are fake. It is impossible to take legal action against them no matter what falsehoods they might utter,” he said.

Repeating the oft-quoted axiom “Your personal liberty to swing your arm ends where my nose begins”, Sabry said free speech exists within the confines of national security, coexistence between communities, development, the country’s reputation and individual privacy.

“Free speech is not freedom of the wild ass that allows you to do whatever you want,” he said.

In November last year, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told a Ministerial Consultative Committee on Mass Media that a regulatory framework for Sri Lankan websites was on the cards.

The committee had reportedly studied Singapore’s controversial Infocomm Media Development Authority Act (IMDA), in addition to POFMA, which critics said will be emulated by Sri Lanka’s proposed regulatory framework in its mandate to curb reporting and content that spread falsehoods and incite racism.

Singapore’s IMDA passed in 2016 is one of the applicable acts to the statutory body responsible for broadcasting and content regulation (irrespective of the transmission medium). It received criticism from various quarters including the International Press Institute over allegations of controlling the media.

Under POFMA, passed in 2018, the Singaporean government can issue a “correction notice” to an individual or organisation for online content about a public institution that the authorities deem false or misleading. The government can even amend such content in the name of public interest. According to various international media reports, the law has been accused of targeting civil society activists, NGOs and opposition lawmakers. Allegedly false statements published by media websites in Singapore can, under POFMA, carry hefty fines up to 1 million Singapore dollars (USD  731,000) and jail sentences of up to 10 years. (Colombo/Apr19/2021)

Related: New S’pore-style regulatory framework for Sri Lanka websites; activists concerned

Video courtesy: NewsFirst

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