The BAR Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has called upon Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe to forthwith revoke the proclamation declaring a State of Emergency.
Issuing a statement, the BASL said the State of Emergency has been declared by the Acting President with effect from 18th July 2022, the third time since April 1st, 2022 that the country has been placed under the same.
On one such occasion, the State of Emergency was rescinded by the President before any Regulations were made thereunder and on the other occasion, the Proclamation was not placed before Parliament and lapsed although Regulations including several provisions impinging on the fundamental rights of people were published.
The BASL pointed out that the latest State of Emergency has been declared three days before Parliament is to elect a successor to the office of President.
As noted in its previous statements, consequent to the declaration of a State of Emergency the Acting President is empowered to make Emergency Regulations which can override, amend or suspend the provision of any law, except the provisions of the Constitution. Emergency Regulations could be used to detain persons bypassing the ordinary court process. In the past, Emergency Regulations have led to many cases of abuse on the part of the authorities which are reflected in the numerous decisions of our courts.
The BASL is of the view that at a time when the election to the office of President has been scheduled in Parliament, the Emergency Regulations must not be used to suppress any legitimate expression of opinion on the election of the President nor to suppress any dissent or disagreement on a particular candidate.
The BASL also notes that in terms of the law any attempt to unduly influence a Member of Parliament or bribing a Member of Parliament in respect of his vote is a specific offence under the law. Any attempt to use any threat, undue influence, coercion, or bribe to influence such a vote will be illegal and should not be condoned.
However, it must also be noted that whilst undue influence or threats are prohibited, the law does not preclude a member of the public from expressing his or her view on the election or the choice of a particular candidate, or the relative merits or demerits of a candidate at the election.
The BASL is firmly of the view that the right to protest and the right to dissent are important aspects of the fundamental rights of the people including the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly. The BASL reiterates that the State of Emergency must not be used to stifle peaceful protests and dissent or to make arbitrary arrests and detentions.
Fundamental Rights are of course subject to the restrictions set out in Article 15 of the Constitution including in the interests of public order. However, any restrictions that are imposed by law must be proportionate and reasonable. As the BASL has noted time and again if a peaceful protest becomes violent, that will only dilute the objective and purpose of a peaceful expression of dissent and strengthen the hands of those who seek to suppress legitimate dissent. Those engaged in protests must take utmost care to ensure that such protests remain peaceful and must be wary of persons who might seek to cause violence and destruction during such protests.
The BASL remains of the view that a declaration of a state of emergency is not the answer to the present situation in the country, including the spate of public protests which have occurred which resulted in the eventual resignation of the former President.
In the aforesaid, the BASL calls upon the Acting President to forthwith revoke the proclamation declaring the State of Emergency and to ensure that the fundamental rights of the people such as the freedom of expression including the freedom of speech and publication, and the freedom of peaceful assembly which are all aspects of the sovereignty of the people are respected and protected and not violated by the State or its agents. (NewsWire)