Exclusive interview with Sri Lankan minister of Justice and Prison Reforms Thalatha Athukorala in Ottawa, Canada
- Hate Speech, Fake News and Cybercrime tackled differently
- No excuses for Police who fail to protect citizens from violence
- A few private TV channels spreading hate and mistrust between communities
- President only realizes the gravity of his actions late
By Mahesh Abeyewardene
Three separate sets of laws and regulations will curb hate speech, fake news, and cybercrime, Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms Thalatha Athukorala told The Sri Lanka Reporter in an interview in Ottawa, Canada.
“There won’t be fines, bans will likely take place,” the Minister said, citing the process was ongoing.
Targeting hate speech was a priority for the Minister as it spurred intercommunal violence following the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.
The Minister claimed specific private television channels were operating on sinister motives to disrupt relations between ethnic communities in the island to reap political benefits. She urged Sri Lankans living abroad to be wary of these news sources.
“Local media or social media, they have to come up with the truth and follow ethics,” she said.
Two or three private channels are interested in bringing certain people to power. They are only concerned about being rich. They don’t care what happens to the country and are only worried about the interest of the Rajapakses. I urge anyone living abroad not to believe these channels.”
Intercommunal violence in Northwestern Province in Sri Lanka following the Easter Sunday attacks targeting Muslim owned homes and businesses was a monumental failure of the police department, according to the Minister.
“How can you say we don’t have resources when we have a national police force. They must take full responsibility.”
“I am not very happy about the Law and Order Ministry held by the President; it must be held by an individual who can give their full attention to the police department. The President, who holds this ministry has too many portfolios.”
Most Sinhalese Buddhists rejected those who created violence against Muslims, she said, adding that those responsible for Easter Sunday Bombings were not representing the majority of Sri Lankan Muslims.
With the Presidential polls coming up at the end of the year, the Minister believes the working relationship between her government and the President must improve.
“We have a plan for the upcoming Presidential elections. It’s regrettable President Sirisena didn’t want to work with us and attempted a coup in October. The President will need to work as a team as there is mistrust between him and the government. The decision is totally up to him. We have a few more months to work together.”
The President came under criticism for staging a 51-day coup which destabilized the government in October. The President is currently under fire for leaving out key elected government officials from National Security Council meetings, which partially led to a massive intelligence failure ahead of the Easter Sunday bombings.
Abolishing the Presidency
Ms. Athukorala says months were wasted on bickering between the government and executive branches of government. Many previous candidates including President Sirisena promised to abolish the Presidency, yet it remains a powerful force.
“Only a UNP candidate will abolish the presidency, the Minister said. It was our party who created the executive office under JR Jayawardena, and it will be our candidate who eventually abolishes the presidency. Even with the 19th amendment, the presidency has still affected our good governance,” the Minister added.
“It is too much for our country, we wasted nearly six months,” she said alluding to political strife between her government and the President.
The Minister said she was confident Sri Lankans appreciated an era of freedom ushered by her government despite many setbacks.
Victims and Witnesses Protection Authority, Minimum criminal age, Mutual Legal Assistance Act, 19th Amendment and Right to Information Act (RTI), Office Missing Persons (OMP), were among the critical pieces of legislation by the government in a bid to create transparency, she said.
“In 2015, we inherited a country full of debt, hatred, and waste. We have created a society free of intimidation of media, and no influence of judiciary,” she said, looking ahead to a crucial year of elections.
“If someone thinks we need a dictator style man can do wonders to bring this country back to normal, we will move backward.”