In a statement released today, the March 12 Movement strongly denounced the recent passage of the Online Safety Bill in Sri Lanka on January 24th, 2024, citing concerns about its threat to fundamental rights and democratic principles.

The movement highlighted an apparent violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to pre-enactment judicial review, emphasizing the oversight of crucial amendments recommended by the Supreme Court. Expressing distress over the government’s pursuit of draconian laws, the Movement urged the Speaker of Parliament to ensure the incorporation of the court’s outlined amendments, emphasizing the importance of due process and respect for democracy. The March 12 Movement warned that the citizens’ silence amid economic challenges should not be misconstrued as obedience, signaling a potential backlash against the government’s coercive rule.

Full Release

We reiterate that the Online Safety Bill poses a grave threat to fundamental rights and democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and regret to note that the current government’s adamant pursuit of this legislation is a clear indication of its intention to silence dissent and suppress civic activism during this critical time of economic reform and upcoming elections.

March 12 Movement notes with grave concern that in addition to introducing an undemocratic law, the parliament outrageously acted in violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to pre-enactment judicial review of legislation.

Several citizens and institutions sought the intervention of the Supreme Court to assess the constitutionality of the Online Safety Bill. The Supreme Court identified specific clauses requiring amendment before the bill’s passage. However, when inquiring into the allegations that have been raised so far, it reveals that crucial amendments outlined in the court’s recommendations were overlooked during the bill’s passage.

Concurrently, the government is pursuing further draconian laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Bill and Electronic Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Bill to silence and oppress people and dissident forces. In this distressing situation, the Online Safety Bill was debated in Parliament using standing orders and passed, potentially undermining the established Westminster-model parliamentary tradition.

While the citizens silently suffer amidst escalating cost of living and unmanageable hunger, it is crucial for the rulers to recognize that this silence does not equate to obedience. The March 12 Movement warns that it is the precursor to a major backlash against the government’s coercive rule.

In light of these developments, we respectfully urge the Speaker of Parliament to ensure that the amendments outlined in the Supreme Court’s judgment are fully incorporated into the Online Safety Bill. Parliament following due process when passing laws, and respecting the judiciary and the sovereignty of citizens, is essential to promote clean politics and reinforce democracy in Sri Lanka.