COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka's highest court has declared that parts of a right to information bill contravene the constitution and it will need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to become law, the speaker announced Tuesday.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the Supreme Court found five articles of the bill contravene the basic charter.
They are mainly clauses that vest sovereignty in the citizens. A key provision declared unconstitutional would allow denial of requested information if it is deemed contempt of court.
The constitution says such bills can become law with a special two-thirds majority because Parliament has the final say.
The bill was presented in Parliament in March. It is a key election pledge by President Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated his strongman predecessor in a January 2015 election. Sri Lanka currently has no right to information law, and the previous government applied tight controls over media.
Sirisena leads a government that includes the two largest political parties and commands two-thirds support. However, it is unclear if all government lawmakers will support the bill in its present form.
Also Tuesday, a group of academics, researchers and media activists urged the government to abolish a media regulatory group that empowers the government to imprison journalists.
Sirisena revived the Press Council last July after having abolished it soon after he was elected to office.
The council prohibits publication of official secrets, certain military matters, and fiscal, exchange or import control measures being considered by the government. Violators can be sentenced to up to two years in prison and fined.
The group Secretariat for Media Reform proposed a self-regulatory body to be created by the industry itself in place of the Press Council.
It also called for new laws for more transparent broadcast licensing and a more rational allocation of frequencies.