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Abuse of ICCPR Act: Ramzi’s Three-Year Ordeal Highlights Concerns

In a recent turn of events, Ramzi Raziq, a social media user, was acquitted of charges under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights No. 56 of 2007 (ICCPR). His case sheds light on the abuse of this act, which was intended to protect human rights but has often been employed to undermine them.

Madhuri Ranasinghe

Sri Lanka, a signatory to the ICCPR, adopted the covenant in 1980, in order to protect many civil and political rights in its constitution and legal framework. However, recent events have raised questions about the government’s use of the act to stifle minority voices and suppress anti-government activists.

What makes Ramzi’s case particularly troubling is the absence of evidence against him. He was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department in April 2020 for a social media comment made during a time of heightened racial tensions.

In his own words, Ramzi explained the context:

“In early 2020, I saw a post about the spread of the Coronavirus. It contained a false idea that the Muslim community is deliberately spreading the Coronavirus among the Sinhalese people. I made a note on my social media account saying that the Muslim people should wage an ideological struggle against this.”

Ramzi’s use of the term “Ideological Jihad” led to his arrest, a term that he insists was misunderstood. He contends that he was advocating for a peaceful ideological struggle, not inciting violence or conflict.

In addition to the baseless charges, Ramzi detailed the mistreatment he faced during his detention. He alleged physical abuse by officers and inadequate medical care for injuries sustained while in custody. His ordeal left him with lasting physical disabilities.

Ramzi’s acquittal on September 21 came as a relief, vindicating his right to free speech and highlighting the need for more stringent safeguards against the misuse of the ICCPR Act. His case serves as a reminder that laws designed to protect human rights must not be weaponized to silence dissent or target minority communities.

His experience is emblematic of a broader issue that has plagued Sri Lanka for some time now – the misuse of legal instruments meant to safeguard human rights and civil liberties. While the ICCPR Act was introduced to protect these very rights, its application in cases like Ramzi’s raises serious concerns about its potential for abuse.

One of the most troubling aspects of the ICCPR Act is its denial of bail until the trial concludes, which can take an extended period. This not only prolongs the agony of individuals like Ramzi but also violates a fundamental principle of justice – the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Moreover, it places an immense burden on the accused and their families, disrupting their lives and causing immeasurable distress.

Ramzi’s case, ultimately resulting in acquittal due to a lack of evidence, raises the question of how many others may still be languishing in detention, their voices silenced, and their rights violated. It underscores the urgency of revisiting the ICCPR Act and ensuring it is used judiciously to protect genuine national interests rather than as a means to suppress dissenting opinions.

In response to these concerns, activists like Ramzi have resolved to continue their advocacy for free speech and against false propaganda. Ramzi’s commitment to challenging unfounded racist narratives and promoting peaceful dialogue is a testament to the importance of free expression in a democratic society.

As Sri Lanka grapples with maintaining democracy, it is imperative that the government reevaluates the use of the ICCPR Act. Clear safeguards and mechanisms should be established to prevent its abuse and to ensure that individuals are not subjected to arbitrary detention or wrongful prosecution. Civil Society, including the social movements, local institutions, and parliamentarians must closely monitor Sri Lanka’s compliance with its human rights obligations.

Ramzi’s story should serve as a powerful reminder that upholding the principles of justice, free speech, and the protection of minorities is not only a moral imperative but also essential for the nation’s progress and standing in the global community. The world is indeed watching, and Sri Lanka has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the values of democracy and human rights by rectifying the misuse of the ICCPR Act and safeguarding the rights of all its citizens.

Colombo High Court’s Landmark Ruling: Navigating Hate Speech and the Rabat Plan of Action

The Colombo High Court’s recent acknowledgement of the Rabat Plan of Action during the Natasha Edirisooriya case has marked a significant turning point in the legal discourse within Sri Lanka. The court’s careful analysis of the situation brought to the forefront a crucial aspect of the hate speech debate – that such speech must constitute an immediate threat of hostility or violence to be considered actionable.

The Rabat Plan of Action, developed by the United Nations, provides a framework for determining the limits of freedom of expression in the context of hate speech. It emphasizes the need to strike a balance between protecting free speech and preventing the harmful consequences of hate speech, such as incitement to violence or discrimination against specific groups.

The court’s recognition of this international framework underscores the importance of a nuanced and context-specific approach to hate speech cases. It emphasizes that not all offensive or controversial speech should be subject to legal action. Instead, the focus should be on speech that directly incites or leads to violence or hostility.

This judicial development is particularly relevant in the current climate where social media and online platforms have become hotbeds for hate speech which has made the authorities propose another bill on online safety. It serves as a reminder that while freedom of expression is a fundamental right, it comes with responsibilities, and those who engage in speech that poses a genuine threat to public safety should be held accountable.

The Edirisooriya case and the court’s use of the Rabat Plan of Action highlight the evolving nature of legal responses to hate speech in Sri Lanka. It sets a precedent for future cases and emphasizes the need for a careful and evidence-based approach to distinguish between protected speech and speech that crosses the line into incitement of violence or hostility. This development represents a step towards a more just and balanced legal framework that respects both free speech and the need to combat hate speech effectively.

It is now up to Sri Lanka’s leaders and institutions to heed these calls for reform, ensuring that the misuse of legal instruments and the suppression of dissent are addressed and that the nation’s democratic values remain unshaken. In doing so, Sri Lanka can demonstrate its commitment to a brighter, more inclusive future for all its citizens.