Sri Lanka’s Minister of Justice, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, has introduced a contentious draft of a new anti-terrorism bill in parliament, sparking criticism for its perceived infringement on people’s rights to information and expression under the pretext of countering terrorism.
Dr. Rajapakshe, while defending the draft, informed the house that amendments had been made to address multiple areas that drew public criticism.
The existing Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), enacted in 1979 as a Temporary Provisions Act, has faced renewed scrutiny in recent months. Concerns raised by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and human rights groups centre around potential abuses and inconsistencies with international legal frameworks.
In response, the Sri Lankan government published a new Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) in March 2023 as a potential remedy. However, critics argue that the revised draft bill, under the guise of counterterrorism efforts, threatens the people’s rights to information and expression.
Of particular concern is the draft bill’s broad definition of “Terrorism,” which could potentially target participants in peaceful protests and empower the police to detain suspects under Detention Orders before court appearances.
Furthermore, the provisions of the draft bill raise serious apprehensions about the possibility of levying terrorism charges against the media.
Amidst public outcry, the Sri Lankan government conceded to revising the bill, issuing a new gazette on September 15th, 2023. The revised bill has now been presented to parliament by the Justice Minister.