ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the controversial ‘online safety’ bill.
The bill was gazetted on September 15 and tabled in parliament October 03. CPA had previously urged that the government withdraw the bill which the organisation said is fundamentally flawed and riddled with potential for abuse.
The petitioners, CPA and its executive director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, argue that the bill as a whole violates several articles of the constitution including entrenched provisions and would thus be required to approved by the people at a referendum in addition to being passed by two thirds parliament voting in favourl.
CPA argues that the vague and overbroad offences contained in the bill and the broad powers of the so called “Online Safety Commission” will have a chilling effect on the exercise of Fundamental Rights by the citizens of Sri Lanka, CPA said in a statement.
The petition also challenges various individual aspects of the Online Safety Bill which violate articles of the constitution including but not limited to:
- Firstly, the several vague objectives of the bill including the power of the Online Safety Commission to “protect” people against the damage caused by “alarming or distressing statements.
- Secondly, the over broad and unconstitutional nature of the listed “prohibited statements” within the Online Safety Bill.
- Thirdly, the arbitrary and unreasonable powers granted to the Online Safety Commission, including the exercise of judicial power which is inconsistent with the constitution.
- Fourthly, the arbitrary powers granted to the minister to appoint private individuals as “experts”, who are then given extensive powers, which impact the liberties of citizens and with no accountability.
CPA also challenges the Online Safety Commission’s ability to make rules and the minister’s ability to make regulations on ‘Online Safety’ because the clauses within the Online Safety bill regarding these abilities lack precision and sufficient criteria.
As such, CPA and its Executive Director argue that the Online Safety Bill is inconsistent with Articles 3, 4(c), 10, 12, 14(1)(a),(b),(c),(e),(f), and (g) and 14A(2) of the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka and thus cannot be enacted into law, unless it is approved by the People at a Referendum in addition to a two-thirds vote of the whole number of the Members of Parliament. (Colombo/Oct12/2023)