Posts exaggerate human rights restrictions during Sri Lanka’s state of emergency, lawyers say

After Sri Lanka’s president declared a state of emergency to quell anti-government protests, Facebook posts claimed the legislation stripped citizens of their basic rights and allowed the military to fire on demonstrators who did not obey orders. However, lawyers told AFP that this claim is misleading, because while the state of emergency gave security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects, it did not remove fundamental rights or gave the army the power to shoot civilians.

“Multiple human rights, including the right to equality, freedom from arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention, are violated when a state of emergency is imposed in Sri Lanka,” reads a statement. long Facebook message in Sinhalese published on April 2, 2022.

It was shared on a page with over 200,000 followers.

The message goes on to call for the removal of the state of emergency; the right of citizens to take legal action to challenge any violation of their basic rights and gives the army the power to shoot people who do not obey orders.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on April 1 after protesters tried to storm his home in anger over an economic crisis crippling the island.

Mass protests have swept across Sri Lanka, which has seen severe shortages of food, fuel and other essentials, as well as steep price hikes and power cuts.

The state of emergency was lifted on April 5.

Screenshot of Facebook post captured April 7, 2022

The same text was shared in several Facebook posts, including here, here, here and here.

However, legal experts said the posts were misleading.

The military cannot fire on protesters

Sri Lankan lawyer Prabodha Rathnayake said that while the state of emergency imposed temporary restrictions on certain rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, it did not take them away.

This allowed citizens to exercise restricted rights as long as they did not interfere with factors such as national security, public safety and racial and religious harmony, he said.

He highlighted the demonstrations allowed during the state of emergency.

“The protesters clearly demonstrated that their actions were peaceful and non-violent and they were allowed to continue and were not arrested or disrupted,” he told AFP.

He also said that the state of emergency did not allow the army to shoot people who did not follow orders.

Ambika Satkunanathan, the former Commissioner of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission, pointed to Article 15 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, which refers to “restrictions of fundamental rights” but not deprivation or denial.

“In times of emergency, certain rights like freedom of assembly can be restricted, but emergency rules cannot deprive citizens of their basic rights. In addition, the government cannot restrict certain rights like protection from violence. torture,” she told AFP.

She also rejected the claim in Facebook posts that citizens “lose the right to file fundamental rights petitions in the Supreme Court if their rights are violated during the state of emergency.”

“There are several Supreme Court judgments concerning violations of freedom of expression, assembly and arrests and detentions committed during the state of emergency,” she told AFP.

AFP had previously debunked social media posts falsely claiming that protesters carrying the Sri Lankan national flag enjoyed special protection against military assault.

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