Monday, 18 January 2016 18:46

16.01.16 Media Release - Hate Speech

The sudden display of “Sinha le” posters and stickers in public places, private motor vehicles including buses and three wheelers, and on social media, gives the appearance of being part of an organized political campaign that seeks to exploit nationalist emotions. The term “Sinhale” was used during the period of Western colonial invasion that began in the 16th century to represent that part of the country that remained free of colonial rule. However, today it being given the meaning of “Sinhala blood” by being broken into two parts as “Sinha Le” with the second part being depicted in red. While the word “Sinhale” is part of the country’s historical tradition, its current usage through posters, sticker, social media and on properties of ethnic and religious minorities is a form of severe intimidation to them. When these words are spray painted on their properties it constitutes hate speech which is prohibited in international law to which Sri Lanka is signatory.

The National Peace Council is mindful of the aggressive campaign against the ethnic and religious minorities, in particular the Muslims in the period immediately prior to 2015. In some instances it resulted in extreme violence where sections of towns were subjected to arson attacks. This hate campaign was led by Buddhist clergy belonging to the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) and supported by a section of the former government, which ensured that they obtained impunity. However, racism and intolerance based on blood ties are not part of the Buddhist ethos. Therefore the motivating force behind the “Sinhale” campaign has to be partisan politics that seeks to use narrow ethnic nationalism to its advantage.

NPC holds that it is the role of the government to maintain peace between individuals, and that this is a key role of the State. The State must act to prevent hate speech as it provokes violence. Society cannot tolerate hate speech on the ground of free speech. Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other trait. We may have ideas of hate but cannot express them because they offend other people who are the victims of such speech. We understand the need to tread carefully on the banning of hate speech as it can be used to stymie legitimate political opinion. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill and the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill which were proposed to ban hate speech were withdrawn, due to public protests as key provisions in them were drawn from the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

NPC emphasizes the need for new legislation as the “Sinhale” campaign demonstrates intolerance and denial of the rights of religious minorities and could potentially lead to violence and disrupt the building of a tolerant and peaceful society, if not nipped in the bud forthwith. There are currently a number of different religious and inter-religious efforts that are attempting to create and promote post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Religious groups could spread the message of peace in effective and sustainable ways. In addition to tackling this problem of hate speech by means of legislation, inter-religious initiatives which aim to bridge ethno-religious divides and establish a discourse of understanding will provide concrete evidence that the national commitment to reconciliation is strong.

Governing Council
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.