Crime & Justice

Sri Lanka approves controversial online bill rising concerns over freedom of speech

Colombo, Jan 24 (EFE).- The Sri Lankan parliament on Wednesday approved a contentious law aimed at regulating online content and combating cybercrimes in the country.

The bill secured approval with 108 votes in favor and 62 against, the Sri Lankan news portal Ada Derana reported.

Opposition parties and human rights groups argue that the law poses a threat to freedom of expression and empower the government to suppress dissenting voices ahead of the presidential elections later this year.

The government says the Online Safety Law is “aimed at battling cybercrimes including child abuse, data theft and online fraud.”

The law proposes jail terms for creators of “illegal” content and makes social media companies such as Google, Facebook, and X (formerly Twitter) accountable for the content posted on their platforms.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concerns about the “repressive” nature of the law, warning that it could “seriously threaten” the right to freedom of expression and grant authorities the power to enter and search suspects’ premises.

The rights group pointed out that the legislation establishes a new “Online Safety Commission,” appointed by the president, with the authority to determine what online speech is deemed “false” or “harmful.”

The commission would have the power to “remove content, restrict and prohibit internet access, and prosecute individuals and organizations.”

In October, the United Nations Human Rights Office criticized the legislation, saying that it is not in line with human rights laws and could “potentially criminalize” almost all forms of “legitimate expression.”

“The Online Safety Bill … gives the authorities a range of expansive powers and can impose restrictions on human rights, not in line with international human rights law,” the UN body said. EFEaw-daa-bks/mcd

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