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Commission calls for police to respect freedom of expression

Graphic: Commission Chairperson Prof Deepika Udagama

The Commission said it was concerned by a spate of arrests involving people who had criticised public sector officials and policies on social media.

In a letter to the Acting Inspector General of Police, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has said that arrests made for criticising public sector officials and policies on social media in relation to the spread of the COVID-19 virus is in violation of the Constitution.

"We have observed an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020 by the Media Division of the Police Department, to heads of media institutions warning of strict legal action against those who publish false and malicious statements over the internet against public authorities who are engaged in containing the spread of the virus," Commission Chairperson Prof Deepika Udagama said in the letter.

"The letter clearly conveys the message that criticism of officials will not be tolerated," she added.

Prof Udagama said that any action to limit freedom of expression in a democracy, even during a period of emergency, must be within the framework of the law.

"In this instance, the applicable law is the Constitution and also Sri Lanka's international human rights obligations," Prof Udagama wrote.

"Those laws require that limitations on rights should comply with the tests of legality, proportionality (limitation must be proportionate to the threat) and non-discrimination."

Stating its appreciation for the efforts of the Police Department in support of public health authorities during the COVID-19 health crisis, the Commission urged the Police Department to review its action and take the necessary measures to ensure compliance.

"We offer our observations and recommendations per our Commission's mandate with the sole intention of ensuring executive and administrative compliance with human rights law," Prof Udagama said in the letter

She added that it was important for "Sri Lanka to emerge from these difficult times with a stronger belief in constitutional governance and the rule of law".

The full letter is available on the Commission's website:

Date: 30 April 2020

Source: Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

Image credits

  1. Commission Chairperson Prof Deepika Udagama - Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka