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Justice Minister presents amended Anti-Terrorism Bill amidst persistent criticism

January 10, Colombo (LNW): Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa today (10) unveiled a draft of the controversial anti-terrorism bill to Parliament, following months of talks on various scales against the hostile nature of it.

The legislation has faced allegations of attempting to curtail people’s rights to information and expression under the pretext of combating terrorism.

Defending the draft, Minister Rajapakshe told Parliament that multiple areas facing criticism have undergone amendments. However, concerns persist regarding the potential infringement on citizens’ rights.

The existing Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), enacted in 1979, has recently faced renewed scrutiny. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and human rights groups have raised objections to certain provisions, citing potential abuses and inconsistencies with international legal frameworks.

In response to these concerns, the Sri Lankan government published a new Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) in March 2023, presenting it as a solution. Rather than addressing terrorism, the draft bill appears to infringe on citizens’ rights, particularly freedom of information and expression, critics argued.

The bill’s broad definition of “terrorism” raises worries about its potential use against individuals participating in peaceful protests.

Additionally, it grants police the authority to detain suspects under Detention Orders before court appearances.

Of particular concern is the draft bill’s provisions that could allow terrorism charges to be levied against the media.

Faced with public outcry, the Sri Lankan government conceded to revise the bill, issuing a new gazette on September 15th, 2023.

Despite the revisions, the presented bill continues to be contentious, highlighting persistent apprehensions regarding potential violations of fundamental rights.

The dialogue on the controversial ATA bill surfaces, when the Minister from another quarter is being cornered by Sri Lankan LGBTQIA+ activists due to his lack of support for the Supreme Court-approved “Penal Code (Amendment) Bill” tabled by Ruling Party MP Premnath Dolawatta proposing amendments to the centuries old clauses criminalising consensual same-sex sexual activities between adults.

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