Protecting Freedom of Expression
In a significant development that highlights the commitment of Sri Lanka’s judiciary to uphold
justice and protect individual liberties, Colombo High Court Judge Adithya Patabendige ordered
the release of stand-up comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya on bail. The decision has garnered
admiration and respect for the court’s role in safeguarding freedom of expression.
Comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya was arrested on charges of allegedly making comments on
Buddhism that were deemed detrimental to the country’s religious harmony. Previously, the
Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court had ordered her to be placed under remand custody. However,
in a bail application filed on behalf of the suspect, the Colombo High Court judge deemed it
appropriate to grant bail to Edirisooriya on a cash bail of Rs.100,000.
The bail hearing shed light on the broader issue of the potential misuse of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act in Sri Lanka. Judge Patabendige referred to
former Minister Rohitha Bogollagama’s statements in Parliament during the introduction of the
ICCPR Act, emphasizing that the Act was being exploited for “different objectives” by various
parties. This observation underscores the need for fair interpretation and application of the Act to
prevent wrongful targeting of individuals or curtailment of their freedom of expression.
Notably, the court also took into consideration the “Rabat Action Plan” put forth by the Human
Rights Committee of the United Nations. This plan played a vital role in establishing the offence
under Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act, which Edirisooriya was accused of violating. Judge
Patabendige clarified that the comedian’s statement did not incite national, religious, or racial
hatred and should not be misconstrued as such.
The decision to grant bail to Nathasha Edirisooriya has received widespread praise from legal
experts and human rights activists. Prominent lawyer and human rights activist Prabodha
Ratnayake took to Facebook to express gratitude and appreciation for the court’s decision.
Ratnayake hailed the ruling as a significant step in preventing the misuse of the ICCPR Act,
setting a precedent for the fair interpretation and application of the law.
The case has gained significant attention within legal circles and among human rights activists,
who view it as a litmus test for the judiciary’s dedication to upholding justice and protecting the
rights enshrined in the ICCPR Act. The decision serves as a powerful reminder of the crucial role a
robust judiciary plays in ensuring the protection of individual liberties and promoting a just society.
The release of Nathasha Edirisooriya on bail represents a victory for justice and the freedom of
expression in Sri Lanka.
It underscores the importance of upholding fundamental rights and prevents the misuse of
legislation that may have far-reaching implications for individual liberties. The judiciary’s
commitment to fairness and the protection of civil rights sets a positive precedent for the future,
fostering a society that values and safeguards the principles of justice and freedom.