By Kalani Kumarasinghe and Shehan Daniel
(COLOMBO) - An amended Online Safety Bill was passed in Parliament on Wednesday, despite calls from the opposition to delay the debating of the Bill and international organisations urging extensive revisions to be made. The final reading of the Bill however was approved without a vote.
For months, the controversial Bill has been criticised by not only opposition politicians but also journalists, activists, business leaders and civil society groups as an attempt by the government to stifle free speech.
The Bill, which draws heavily from similar legislation in countries such as Singapore and the United Kingdom, has also been viewed as a threat to foreign direct investment in the country.
While you would hear words like ‘data’, ‘privacy’, ‘encryption' and ‘cyber security’ being used in similar debates in other countries, Sri Lanka's Parliament chose to discuss in detail, how their lives were thrust in danger following the riots of May 9, 2022 which they said were fuelled by targeted social media campaigns.
During the debate, comments from the ruling party parliamentarians only seemed to support the argument that the Bill was in fact an attempt for Sri Lanka’s politicians to protect themselves from various criticisms and reprovals.
Over the course of the two-day debate, the country’s elected lawmakers appeared ill-prepared and ignorant of the contents of the very piece of legislation they were debating. Following are some of the statements made in Parliament during the debate of the Online Safety Bill:
MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage
“There is no freedom for a man to bathe, no freedom to wear a short dress, no freedom to sing a song at a club. Those days in the village, girls used to bathe in the river. That was the norm. Now girls can’t do this because some boy would take a photograph of this and publish them”
MP Sarath Weerasekara
“When we went to school, we had radios, we used to listen to Pirith and patriotic songs before we went to school with a peaceful mind. Social media and media don’t do this anymore… We have done amazing things in the past. Yodha Ela, Ruwanweliseya, Maduru Oya Reservoir, Sigiriya, Watadage in Thiriyaya. What has become of us now? It is the responsibility of media to rekindle our greatness as our people still have those genes,”
MP Dayasiri Jayasekara
“…For example, Amaradeva’s name is given as Albert Perera. What if someone posts saying that it’s not Albert Perera that is used, what happens?”
Minister Kanchana Wijesekera
“After this (OSB) is brought, only Parliamentarians have the chance to lie because of Parliamentary privileges…”
MP Samanpriya Herath
“In ancient times, animals were used to communicate. It created literature, like the Selalihini Sandeshaya, Gira Sandeshaya, Hansa Sandeshaya… There was no character assassination in these…”
State Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardana
“This even affects our opposition leader. There is one social media post showing him (opposition leader) going on a footbridge, when there’s a bridge. That’s his choice…”
Former President Maithripala Sirisena
“I requested time to make this statement in this forum. Thieves broke into my daughter’s house. They stole things in the kitchen. I don’t have many valuables like golden horses for them to take, just some edibles like rice, coconuts, milk packets and a tin of Sustagen… This incident was wrongly depicted by the media”