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Asia and the Pacific
Western Asia

Sri Lanka - November 2023

Supreme Court finds former top officials guilty of economic crisis in symbolic ruling
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On 14 November, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling holding former top officials, including ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda, responsible for violating the fundamental rights of Sri Lanka's people by mishandling the country’s economic crisis that began in 2022. The verdict is largely symbolic and carries no penalties aside from an order to pay the petitioners’ legal fees. The case was lodged by Transparency International Sri Lanka and other rights activists. Bhavani Fonseka from the Center for Policy Alternatives noted that the ruling marks an "important step in addressing impunity and implicating the key actors involved, [who] continue to enjoy impunity in Sri Lanka," while acknowledging that "what happens after this is going to be critical - whether the state attorney general's department will initiate criminal proceedings is yet to be seen."

Sources: Supreme Court Sri Lanka, Daily FT, Transparency International Sri Lanka, CPA Twitter

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Rule of Law 0 Rule of Law  (0)
Predictable Enforcement

Concerns sparked over two proposed bills threatening free speech
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UN Special Rapporteurs have expressed concerns about Sri Lanka's proposed Online Safety Act and Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act, citing potential violations of freedom of expression, association, assembly, and privacy rights. The Online Safety Act, seeking to combat false statements online through an established commission, is criticized for including vague and broad provisions that may be misused to silence critical voices online. After being challenged in court by civil society, the Supreme Court on 7 November determined that the bill is consistent with the Constitution and can be passed by a simple majority, subject to amendments to 31 of its provisions. While some of the SC’s proposed amendments focus on ensuring the independence of the Commission, narrowing the scope of interpreting offences, and restricting the commission's powers, other recommended amendments are alleged to have no significant impact on the Act's overall effect, as they pertain to procedural matters. The Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act, which regulates mass media organizations, is similarly faulted for granting the executive extensive powers to penalize or silence media critical of the government. The UN Special Rapporteurs and rights organizations have called for the bills to be withdrawn and significantly amended along with increased public consultation.

Sources: OHCHR, Economy Next, Factum, Sri Lanka Brief

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Rights 0 Rights  (0)
Civil Liberties
Freedom of Association and Assembly
Freedom of Expression
Freedom of The Press

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