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Tuesday February 7th, 2023

Poorly worded legal provisions can be construed to cover “fake news”: Sri Lanka lawyer

ECONOMYNEXT – Broadly and poorly worded provisions in Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Computer Crimes Act can be construed in bad faith to cover alleged falsehoods disseminated online, human rights lawyer Dr Gehan Gunatilleke said.

“For example, section 6 of the Computer Crimes Act criminalises using a computer in a manner that results in danger or imminent danger to ‘public order’. It is conceivable for law enforcement authorities to interpret this provision in bad faith and argue that dissemination of false content poses a danger to public order,” Gunatilleke told EconomyNext on June 09.

Sri Lanka police said on June 08 that citizens publishing or sharing news deemed ‘false’ on social media can be arrested without a warrant. Police said anyone creating, publishing, sharing, forwarding, or aiding and abetting the spread of ‘fake news’ on social media will be considered to have committed an offence under provisions in the police ordinance, the penal code, the prevention of terrorism act (PTA), the computer crimes act and other laws.

Related: Sri Lankans posting information deemed ‘false’ on social media face arrest without warrant

Gunatilleke said the power to arrest without a warrant depends on the offence.

“If the person is being arrested under the PTA for instance, the police officer can arrest the person without a warrant. The Criminal Procedure Code authorises a police officer to make arrests without a warrant if the offence is ‘cognizable’,” he said.

A cognizable offence, as classified in the legal systems of Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is an offence in which a police officer has the authority to arrest without a warrant and start investigating without a court order.

According to Gunatilleke, all offences under the Computer Crimes Act are classified as cognizable within the meaning of the Criminal Procedure Code.

“That means if someone is arrested on suspicion of an offence under the Computer Crimes Act, it is possible for the arrest to take place without a warrant. It is possible that the police are relying on these laws in order to avoid the requirement of obtaining a warrant,” he said.

Though the offences in the PTA and Computer Crimes Act do not directly deal with false content, but according to Gunatilleke, certain provisions such as Section 6 of the Computer Crimes Act as stated above may be interpreted to cover the dissemination of false content.

Asked what constitutes falsehoods or “fake news” online, the lawyer said Sri Lankan law has no reference to fake news.

“The only offence that I can think of that directly relates to dissemination of false content is section 98 of the Police Ordinance, which makes it an offence to ‘spread false reports with the view to alarm the inhabitants of any place within Sri Lanka and create a panic’. There are many elements to this offence, which I think make it impossible for there to be reasonable suspicion merely by observing a person’s actions,” he said.

Gunatilleke said the falsehood of the content, and reasonable suspicion of the person’s intention to alarm others and create panic, should be established before making an arrest.

“But I’m not sure whether this provision is being relied on to arrest people. As I said, it’s possible that the police are relying on the PTA and Computer Crimes Act instead,” he said.

“If they are arresting people under section 120 of the Penal Code (exciting disaffection), that too is a cognizable offence, and an arrest can be made without a warrant,” he added. (Colombo/June09/2021)

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Sri Lanka Railways to seek PPPs to boost revenue streams

CURFEW RUSH: Commuters scrambling to get home after curfew was declared in Sri Lanka on March 20, 2020.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Railway department hopes to expand Public Private Partnerships and earn more non-passenger revenues to offset recurring operational costs, an official said.

“For the past 10 years, except the last few years, the Railway operational income only covers around 50 percent of the operational expense of the Department,” the General Manager of the Railway, D.S. Gunasinghe told EconomyNext.

“Our plan is to increase the non-passenger revenue of the Railway department.

“And we cannot expect and do not hope for money from the government.”

Sri Lanka Railways already has agreements with Prima, a food firm, and Insee Cement, which is bringing in additional income, Gunasinghe said.

“We had agreements for material transportation such as sand in the past, however it was canceled but we hope to start it again” he said.

The department will rent out its storage facilities and circuit bungalows for the tourism sector to create additional revenue streams.

Sri Lanka Railways recorded an operating loss of 10.3 billion rupees during 2021, compared to a loss of 10.1 billion rupees in 2020, the Central Bank 2021 annual report showed.

The total revenue of the SLR stood at 2.7 billion rupees, a 41.3 percent drop from a year ago.

(Colombo/ Feb 06/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s doctors distribute anti-tax hike leaflets to train commuters

ECONOMYNEXT – Doctors representing Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) distributed leaflets outside the Colombo Fort railway station against a progressive tax hike, threatening to address the government in a “language it speaks”.

GMOA Secretary Haritha Aluthge told reporters outside the busy Fort railway station Monday February 06 afternoon that all professional associations have collectively agreed to oppose the personal income tax hike.

“The government is taking a lethargic approach. They cannot keep doing this. They have a responsibility towards the citizens, the country and society,” said Aluthge.

The medical officer claimed that the government was acting arbitrarily (අත්තනෝමතික).

“If it cannot understand the language they’ve been speaking, if the government’s plan is to put all professionals out on the street, if it doesn’t present a solution, all professional unions have decided unanimously to address the government in a language it speaks, ,” he said.

Aluthge and other GMOA members were seen distributing leaflets to commuters leaving the railway station. Doctors in Sri Lanka in general are likely to earn higher salaries than the average train commuter, and a vast majority of Sri Lanka’s population, most of whom take public transport, don’t fall into the government’s new tax bracket. Many doctors, though certainly not all, collect substantial sums of money at the end of every month as doctor’s fees in private consultations.

About two miles away from the doctors, the Ceylon Blank Employees’ Union, too, engaged in a similar distribution leaflet campaign on Monday at the Maradana railway station. A spokesman promised “tough trade union” action if there was no solution offered by next week.

Sri Lanka’s cash-strapped government has imposed a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax on all Sri Lankans who earn an income above 100,000 rupees monthly, with the tax rate progressively increasing for higher earners, from 6 percent to 36 percent.

A person who paid a tax of 9,000 rupees on a 400,000 rupee monthly income will now have to pay 70,500 rupees as income tax, the latest data showed. This has triggered a growing wave of anti-government protests mostly organised by public sector trade unions and professional associations.

Even employees of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank recently joined a week-long “black protest” campaign organised by state sector unions against the sharp hike in personal income tax, even as Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said painful measures were needed for the country to recover from its worst currency crisis in decades.

The government, however, defends the tax hike arguing that it is starved for cash as Sri Lanka, still far from a complete recovery, is struggling to make even the most basic payments, to say nothing of the billions needed for public sector salaries.

Economists say Sri Lanka’s bloated public service is a burden for taxpayers in the best of times, and under the present circumstances, it is getting harder and harder to pay salaries and benefits.

Sri Lanka’s new tax regime has both its defenders and detractors. Critics who are opposed to progressive taxation say it serves as a disincentive to industry and capital which can otherwise be invested in growth and employment-generating business ventures. Instead, they call for a flat rate of taxation where everyone is taxed at the same rate, irrespective of income.

Others, however, contend that the new taxes only affect some 10-12 percent of the population and, given the country’s economic situation, is necessary, if not vital, at least for a year or two.

Critics of the protesting workers argue that most of the workers earn high salaries that most ordinary people can only dream of, and, they argue, though there may be some cases where breadwinners could be taxed more equitably, overall, Sri Lanka’s tax rates remain low and are not unfair.  (Colombo/Feb06/2023)

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Sri Lanka bond Yields end steady

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s bond yields closed steady on Monday, dealers said while a guidance peg for interbank transactions remained unchanged.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2025 closed at 32.15/30 percent, steady from Friday’s 32.05/10 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2027 closed at 28.90/29.10, steady from Friday’s 28.90/20.05 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank US dollar transactions appreciated by one cent to 361.96 rupees against the US dollar.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers at 370.35 rupees on Monday, data showed. (Colombo/Feb 06/2023)

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