In a recent statement, Amnesty International South Asia, Regional Office, has raised concerns over Sri Lanka’s proposed Online Safety Bill, labeling it as the latest attempt by the government to restrict the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The organization warns that if passed in its current form, the legislation could become a powerful tool for authorities to stifle dissent and critique.

The bill introduces vaguely worded, subjective offenses, including “prohibited statements” to be determined by a powerful ‘Online Safety Commission.’ Amnesty International argues that such provisions could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, especially considering the economic crisis and austerity measures faced by the Sri Lankan population.

Having routinely witnessed the government’s use of excessive force against mass protests since 2022, Amnesty International fears that the proposed law will be susceptible to abuse, particularly in targeting online spaces in the run-up to upcoming elections and beyond.

The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Sri Lanka is a state party. Amnesty International calls on the Sri Lankan parliament to vote against the passage of this legislation, emphasizing the urgency of protecting citizens’ rights amid growing concerns over potential abuses.

As the debate over the Online Safety Bill unfolds, human rights advocates and citizens alike are closely watching the developments, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach that safeguards both online safety and the fundamental right to freedom of expression.