For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Arresting and charging individuals who distribute handbills in order to create awareness on political, commercial, social or cultural issues under the regulations of the National Environment Act (NEA) is a violation of the freedom of speech entrusted under the Constitution, Center for Human Rights (CHR) Sri Lanka says.
The National Environment Act, No 47 of 1980 does not contain any legal provisions to prevent the distribution of handbills or the display of posters. Even the amendments made to the NEA in 1988 and 2000 have not made the distribution of handbills illegal. However, even under such circumstances the Katunayake Police as well as the Wennappuwa Police has taken measures to curb the distribution of handbills through the NEA.
Curtailing the distribution of leaflets using NEA regulations is a violation of the freedom of speech entrusted upon the masses through Article 14.1 of the Constitution.
The current legal framework in Sri Lanka does not contain any legal necessities to prevent the distribution of posters or handbills. Even the courts dismissed attempts of charging the distribution of handbills using regulations of the National Thoroughfares Act, No 40 of 2008 since it clearly results in a breach of the freedom of speech.
A wide spectrum of public interest groups including political parties, trade unions, student unions as well as civil organizations use posters and handbills as a medium to communicate and convey their messages to the public. The low-cost and easy accessibility are other that has made handbills and leaflets a popular medium of communication among communication methods for public interest groups. Additionally, another benefit of using these mediums is its minimum impact on the environment.
It is evident that the circulation of posters and handbills are now permitted solely to a single party. Making use of the NEA in order to prevent opposing views to be communicated to the public is a grave situation since it is apparent that the purpose of the NEA is not the prevention of the distribution of handbills or posters.
The Center for Human Rights strongly condemns the manner in which the NEA is misused to curtail the communication of conflicting views among the people of the country and urges the public to unite in order to defeat the reckless agenda carried out by the Police.
Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon
Executive Director/CHA Tel. 00 94 777 791225