The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has criticised the Sri Lankan government's Kafkaesque handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as one which “undermines freedom of expression”.
Journalists, doctors and social media users have been threatened and harassed by the government for criticising the state response to the COVID-19 pandemic. ICJ notes that critics have been questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and some have gone on to be arrested and detained for weeks for allegedly posting “fake news” on social media. "The government’s intimidation of people who raises questions about measures to respond to COVID-19 serve to undermine, not advance, efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.
“The Sri Lankan government seems to be misusing regulations adopted to combat COVID-19 as a yet another means to restrict freedom of expression and information. This is a continuation of practices spanning far earlier than the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. The UN Human Rights Committee stressed that “freedom of expression, access to information, and a civic space where a public debate can be held constitute important safeguards” and that although there is a need to deter false news, the law must be “pursued using the least intrusive means, rather than unnecessary and disproportionate measures, such as unwarranted arrests and police intimidation”.
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