(Full Text of an Open Appeal to Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe by Journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj)
President Ranil Wickremesinghe
19 April 2023
Dear President Wickremesinghe
I write to you in my professional capacity as a journalist writing on Sri Lankan affairs for newspapers published in Sri Lanka about an issue of deep concern to all members of the fourth estate in Sri Lanka.
The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) draft bill that is to be presented by your Government in Parliament on 25 April 2023 has been widely criticized over many of its provisions.
These critics range from the International Commission of Jurists(ICJ) that released a public statement to a group of more than 450 eminent Sri Lankan citizens, organizations and trade unions who signed a a public petition.
There have also been many statements and media communiques by several reputed organizations and institutions in Sri Lanka and abroad pinpointing the multiple negative features in the proposed ATA. In addition, many newspapers have published critical articles and editorials.
I do not intend to outline all the criticisms against the AT bill here as they have been well publicized in the media. However I do subscribe to the legitimate criticism levelled against this bill by responsible sections of Sri Lankan society.
What is of particular concern to me are the provisions relating to the media. The ATA if passed in its present form will drastically affect and restrict the freedom of expression in general and the day to day functioning of journalists in particular. The ATA will be a Sri Lankan version of the sword of Damocles that would hang over the desks of journalists.
As a journalist who was compelled to leave the land of my birth due to victimisation by the state for my reporting and political commentary, I am fully aware and extremely sensitive about the ramifications of this issue. I know from experience that Sri Lankan Police officials are capable of misinterpreting the writings of journalists adversely in order to please whichever Government is in power. As suchI am fearful that if the ATA is passed and implemented, it may very well ring the death knell for free and fair journalism in the country.
President Wickremesinghe, I also wish to point out that you have in recent times earned the respect of many by your praiseworthy leadership in rescuing Sri Lanka out of its economic crisis and enabling the country to progress on the road to economic recovery. Please do not spoil that by attempting to push through this horrible piece of legislation.
Furthermore as a political leader with much experience, you cannot but help notice that the ATA bill issue is uniting disparate forces in Sri Lanka against you and your Govt.
Your positive achievements are being drowned in these rising waters of negative public opinion. Sadly the potential you possess to lift Lanka out of the economic morass it has sunk into could be seriously undermined. That would indeed be a tragedy!
As such I conclude by appealing to you to urgently review matters and abandon the idea of presenting the Anti-Terrorism Act draft bill in Parliament.
Please consult all shades of legitimate opinion and draft a new broadly acceptable anti-terrorism law that could be passed unanimously by Parliament.
God Bless Sri Lanka!
19 April 2023