Colombo: Sri Lankan Parliament on Wednesday approved with amendments the controversial Online Safety Bill that seeks to regulate online content amid criticism from the opposition that claimed it will stifle freedom of speech.
As many as 108 parliamentarians voted for it while 62 voted against the bill that was passed after a two-day debate.
The new legislation would lead to the establishment of the Online Safety Commission which is empowered to make punitive rulings on offenses.
A false statement on line would be liable, if convicted, to an imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand Sri Lankan rupees.
At the committee stage proceedings, the government went ahead presenting the amendments, which had come from the Supreme Court that checked its constitutionality.
The apex court had ruled to amend at least 31 of the full 57 clauses of the bill.
The main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa’s assertion to speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to postpone the committee stage claiming the action was unconstitutional was ignored by the chair.
Earlier, the bill was severely criticised as one which impinged the freedom of expression. The opposition argued, citing the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC), that the bill would hamper efforts to invite foreign investment.
The opposition also vowed to repeal it when in power.
The AIC had said, “The proposed legislation, in its present form, poses significant challenges that, if not addressed comprehensively, could undermine the potential growth of Sri Lanka’s digital economy.” During the day one of the debate on Tuesday, the opposition urged the Speaker to postpone the two day debate accusing the government of rushing through with it. They cited insufficient public consultation.
The Speaker had called for a vote to decide if the two-day debate should proceed. Out of 225 legislators, 83 voted in favour of holding the debate while 50 voted against it.