Monday December 11, 2023

Outcry in Sri Lanka over mooted jail terms for social media misuse

October 03, 2023

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan rights groups warned on Monday that proposed jail terms for spreading misinformation on social media amounted to a wholesale effort to stifle criticism of the island nation´s beleaguered government.

An “online safety bill” that mandates five-year prison sentences for any social media post government regulators consider to be “false” or causing offence is set to be presented to parliament this week.

The draft law compels social media platforms to divulge the identity of anonymous users accused of those crimes with a 10 million rupee ($31,000 ) fine for non-compliance. “This is a very draconian piece of legislation that will have a chilling effect on the entire population,” Lasantha Ruhunuge of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists´ Association told reporters.

He added that the government was trying to suppress democratic dissent and censor criticism over corruption, mismanagement and abuse of power by politicians and top officials. The bill is listed for consideration on Tuesday but it cannot be debated for at least two weeks to allow challenges to its legality in the Supreme Court.

Ruhunuge´s organisation is part of a coalition of 18 civil society groups opposing the bill, which would also force internet service providers to block accounts the government considers harmful to the national interest.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been accused of cracking down on dissent since coming to power last year at the height of the South Asian island nation´s unprecedented economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe has pushed through unpopular tax hikes and cuts to consumer subsidies to satisfy the terms of an International Monetary Fund bailout.