When eight explosions rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday (April 21), the government moved swiftly to declare a State of Emergency. A day after the deadly attack that left 257 dead, nearly 500 injured and the whole of Sri Lanka in shock and mourning, President Maithripala Sirisena declared that Part II of the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) would come into effect. Under Part II of the PSO, Emergency Regulations can be enacted in the interest of national security and to maintain essential services and public order.
The Emergency Regulations of April 2019, which are wide-ranging and cover a gamut of areas, were passed in Parliament without a vote. They are, however, only valid for a month before they must be extended with Parliament approval. Besides empowering the security forces to search, seize, arrest and detain anyone suspected of terrorist activities, there are a number of ways in which the Emergency Regulations can affect you — the average citizen. It’s always a good idea to know what these are, so you can make sure to stay on the right side of the law.
You Can Be EVICTED:
If the building you live in is suspected to be connected to an offence that comes under the Emergency Regulations or the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the local Superintendent of Police can evict you. If you own the building, you do have the option of appealing to the High Court for its release, with the added knowledge that if you are not guilty, authorities are obliged to return the premises within six months.
They Can Use Your VEHICLE:
That’s right. A Competent Authority (specified in this case as the Commander of the Army, Navy, Air Force, the Inspector-General of Police or the District Secretary of every Administrative District) can claim the use of any vehicle — in the interest of public security, to preserve public order, or to keep essential services running, of course. They can also order a vehicle not to be removed from a premises until specified by order.
Your Personal SERVICES May Be Required:
You can be called on to render any personal service in the interest of national security or the maintenance of essential services. Failure to comply is an offence that can have you severely penalised. So be prepared to push through those fears and say ‘yes.’
You Can Be RESTRICTED From Certain Places:
If a Competent Authority (in this case, a person appointed by name or by office by the President) decides that certain places are restricted—in the interest of national security and the maintenance of essential services—you will not be allowed there. That is, unless you are able to obtain special prior permission. And if you are found in a restricted area in contravention of the regulations, without prior permission, the Competent Authority is empowered to remove you from there.
No PROCESSIONS Or MEETINGS:
The President can prohibit you from holding public processions or meetings, if he is of the opinion that the meeting or procession could cause a disturbance to the public.
A CURFEW Can Be Imposed
The President has the power to impose a curfew on any specified area for a specified time period. In fact, one of the first things the President did after the Easter Sunday bombings, was to impose an islandwide curfew for five consecutive nights. Even after islandwide curfew was lifted, it was reimposed on certain areas—Sammanthurai, Chavalakadai and Kalmunai in the Eastern province, and Negombo in the Western province—where tensions were high. If you absolutely must be out during a curfew, you are allowed to obtain a written permit from somebody authorised to grant such permissions.
There Will Be Restrictions On PUBLICATION:
A Competent Authority can restrict the publication of certain types of content within Sri Lanka and also prevent the transmission of said content outside of Sri Lanka, if the content is viewed as being “prejudicial to Sri Lanka, detrimental to national security and the maintenance of essential services or inciting or encouraging persons to mutiny, riot, cause civil commotion, or to commit a breach of any law that is in force.” While these regulations may not typically affect you—unless you are organising a grassroots revolutionary movement— it does affect newspapers, and, presumably, other forms of publication, as publishers can be made to submit content to the Competent Authority before publication.
You May Need To Keep The Police INFORMED:
Those of us who grew up during the war may remember having to keep Police appraised of household members at all times. Those laws have now been brought back, which means—if requested— you may now be required to provide the details of your household members to a police officer not below the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police, Furthermore, a household can be ordered not to take in a stranger without first notifying the OIC (Officer-in-Charge) of the local police station.
No FAKE NEWS
Not in so many words, but the Emergency Regulations do state that any person communicating (by word of mouth or other means), disseminating (hello, social media) or spreading any rumour or false statement likely to cause public alarm or public disorder is considered guilty of offence and liable to imprisonment. So be careful about what information you accept, share and spread.
No MILITARY-Style Clothing
You may have to give up on your trendy camouflage clothing for now. Anyone not a member of the Armed Forces or Police wearing or in possession of any “garb, dress, uniform, identity card, token or other symbol resembling in any manner or in any detail, the garb, dress, uniform—or even identity card, token or other symbol—worn or used by any member of the Armed Forces or the Police Force” is guilty of offence.
No WEAPONS Or Explosives
Maybe it’s an antique sword, or you’re just into guns, but under the new Emergency Regulations, any person in possession of any gun, explosive, offensive weapons or offensive substance is guilty of offence. The Police has requested the public to turn in any private collections of weapons to the nearest Police station until the country is secure, so now may be a good time to store these at a safer location.
No HEMS And HAWS
If you’re asked a question, you’re obliged to reply — IF the question comes from a member of the Army, Navy or Air Force. So know what you are doing, where you are going and be prepared for any (even unpleasant) questions. Now’s not the time for dithering.
There is a lot more included in the Emergency Regulations of April 2019, but these ought to keep you safe and in the clear for the time being. If you want to read the Gazette notification pertaining to the Emergency Regulations in detail, however, it can be accessed here.