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Sri Lanka's contentious internet safety legislation takes effect


Sri Lanka has implemented strict regulations to control internet material, which rights organizations argue is intended to suppress freedom of expression.

The Online Safety Act grants the government commission extensive authority to evaluate and eliminate "prohibited" information.

Officials claim that it would assist in combating cybercrime, while others argue that it stifles opposition in anticipation of elections.


Social media played a significant part in the demonstrations that led to the president's removal during the economic crisis of 2022.

The legislation was approved on January 24 by a vote of 108-62, which led to demonstrations outside the house. It was officially implemented on Thursday after receiving the Speaker's endorsement.

The comprehensive legislation, among other provisions, prohibits disseminating "inaccurate statements regarding events in Sri Lanka," remarks made with "explicit intent to offend religious sentiments," and the abuse of automated programs.

A presidentially appointed panel of five members will be granted authority to evaluate these remarks, issue directives for their removal, and levy sanctions on the individuals responsible for making such statements.

The law would impose liability on social media platforms for the content posted on their sites.

• Currently, the presidential palace is occupied by many Sri Lankans. The everyday anguish of living in a financially insolvent nation • 'Protests have positively influenced perspectives.'

Tiran Alles, the Minister of Publicity Security, presented the proposed law before parliament, emphasizing the need to address cybercrimes and utterances threatening national stability.

The individual mentioned that over 8,000 complaints about cybercrimes were made in the previous year.

On Thursday, a pro-democracy organization in Sri Lanka said that the government's unwavering pursuit of the law is a clear sign of its aim to stifle opposition and repress civic participation, particularly when the nation is still grappling with the aftermath of its most severe economic crisis.

Since the government declared bankruptcy in April 2022 with a debt of over $83 billion, food prices and inflation have surged to unprecedented heights. Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was compelled to resign and depart the nation after a multitude of anti-government demonstrators infiltrated his house.

"Amidst the rising cost of living and unmanageable hunger, it is imperative for the rulers to acknowledge that the silence of the citizens does not indicate compliance..." The organization called the March 12 Movement, said it serves as a forerunner to a significant pushback against the government's oppressive governance.

Amnesty International, a rights organization, expressed concerns that the act's extensive provisions and ambiguous language might curtail individuals' rights to internet freedom of speech and privacy.

"The government's latest tool has the potential to undermine freedom of expression and suppress dissent," said Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, the group's regional researcher for South Asia.

In October last year, the United Nations human rights office expressed concerns regarding the proposed legislation, stating that it would grant authorities unrestricted power to categorize and limit expressions they deem as 'false statements.' Sri Lanka's upcoming presidential elections are anticipated to occur later this year or early next year.

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