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US concerned over Sri Lanka’s online law but encouraged amendments

By: Staff Writer

February 20, Colombo (LNW): The United States expressed concerns raised by critics of Sri Lanka’s controversial Online Safety Act (OSA) on its potential for repression of free speech and impact on the country’s digital economy but is encouraged by the ongoing amendments process, a top US official said, calling for a consultative dialogue.

US Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Elizabeth M Allen said on Monday February 19 that her government has been engaged in discussions on the recently passed legislation both publicly and privately.

“The United States shares the concerns of journalists, influencers, and content creators, as well as people everywhere on the potential for repression of freedom of expression and the stifling of dissent that the online safety bill [unclear], and we are encouraged by the amendments process,” said Allen.

She made this remark in response to a question raised by a journalist at a discussion with media professionals in Colombo on ‘Global media space and its impact on democracy’, organised by the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

“We also share the concerns raised by technology companies in terms of their ability to operate freely in Sri Lanka,” Allen said, adding that the issue has as much to do with said companies’ terms of service as it does with Sri Lanka’s own digital economy and its ability to thrive.

“The digital economy is seen by everybody as a means to continue building Sri Lanka’s economic future, attracting investment, and preserving freedom of expression,” she said.

However, said Allen, the US remains concerned over the legislation as it currently stands and believes it is crucial that conversations around its amendment and also around the proposed anti-terrorism bill be consultative.

Much like the OSA, Sri Lanka’s proposed new Anti Terrorism Act which, which seeks to replace existing Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), has  the target of much criticism both locally and internationally. Allen said the US fully supports inclusive consultations involving civil society, journalists, technology companies, and academics. Effective legislation can only be achieved by taking into account the perspectives of various stakeholders, an approach her government will continue to advocate for this approach, she added.

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