CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately and unconditionally drop charges against youth activist and stand-up comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya. The government must stop using judicial harassment to silence free speech.
Earlier this year, she had faced 39 days of unjust imprisonment and severe online bullying and threats. The government continues to use judicial harassment against her, with another hearing scheduled for 15 November.
Nathasha was accused of insulting religious sentiments and hate speech for two jokes during her comedy performance in April 2023. She was arrested on 27 May 2023 following publishing her performance on YouTube. Despite the removal of the video and a public apology, she was prevented from travelling abroad and arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
She was also subjected to coordinated online harassment and threats, with her private residence location shared online. She faced trolling and severe threats of violence and rape. None of the perpetrators have been held accountable, and those calling for accountability have been targeted.
On 28 May, Nathasha was charged and remanded under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, and sections of the Penal Code for ‘deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person’ and ‘deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons’ and the Computer Crimes Act. Nathasha was detained until 5 July 2023, when the Colombo High Court granted her bail.
After being released on bail, she was arbitrarily summoned for a separate inquiry into ‘unlawful assets.’ The government has also continued to pursue the case against her under the ICCPR Act and other offences, and a hearing is scheduled for 15 November 2023.
CIVICUS calls on the government to stop the continual and blatant abuse of the ICCPR Act against Nathasha Edirisooriya. Among other provisions, it criminalises the advocacy of “national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” The act has been systematically misused to silence free speech in Sri Lanka and is not fully compatible with international human rights law and standards.