The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) said they were gravely concerned by the declaration of a state of emergency claiming that it was not the answer to the present situation in the country, including the spate of public protests which have occurred.
They called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to revoke the proclamation declaring a 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 aspects of the sovereignty of the people are respected and protected and not violated by the State or its agents.
The BASL said in a statement that they were committed to protecting the rights of the people of Sri Lanka and will take all necessary steps for that end including the providing of assistance to those whose rights may be infringed during this time.
“The state of emergency must not be used to stifle peaceful protests and dissent or to make arbitrary arrests and detentions,” the statement added.
The BASL said consequent to the declaration of a state of emergency, the President is empowered to make Emergency Regulations which can override, amend or suspend the provision of any law, except the provisions of the Constitution. Over the past several months the country has been heading towards a grave economic crisis and early warnings given by professionals and experts in the field both local and international have gone unheeded. The BASL too issued a statement on the present plight of the economy on the 14. of January 2022 setting out the consequences of the impending crisis. Unfortunately, those in authority have until very recently failed to understand the gravity of the situation and the grave impact the crisis has on the life of the people and the community.
The unprecedented power cuts extending for over half the day, the fuel shortages, gas shortages, drugs shortages, the foreign exchange crisis and the escalating prices of essential items have all resulted in the people of this country being driven to desperation. There has been a failure to understand the aspirations of the people, and to empathize with the suffering of the people of the country.
The Government of Sri Lanka must make people aware of its policies and plans for the recovery of the economy In order to alleviate their suffering.
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.
These rights are of course subject to the restrictions set out in Article 1S of the Constitution including in the interests of public order.
However, any restrictions that are imposed by law must be proportionate and reasonable. 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. As such violent acts which occur during a protest and destruction of property whether public or private cannot be condoned and must be condemned. Similarly, 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.
However, whilst the authorities including the police have a right to deal with an unlawful assembly and to bring perpetrators of violence to book, a distinction must be made between those engaged in peaceful protests exercising their constitutional rights and those who engage in violence.
(Courtesy: Daily Mirror)