Never said insulting, defaming President a crime: Nihal Thalduwa

  • Police Spokesman claims he was misquoted by Sinhala newspaper

BY Pamodi Waravita

Police Media Spokesman Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nihal Thalduwa, when summoned before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday (10), has denied that he had said that insulting or defaming the President is a crime.

On 3 January 2022, SSP Thalduwa was quoted in a Sinhala newspaper as having said: “It is prohibited to publish and exchange statements that insult the President on social media or any other media. The Police are authorised to take legal action against any individual who does so.”

However, a senior HRCSL official told The Morning yesterday that he had told the HRCSL that he was misquoted.

“However, when questioned about this statement yesterday by the HRCSL, SSP Thalduwa said that he was misquoted by the said newspaper, and that he had written a letter on 5 January 2022 to the newspaper’s editorial about the matter. Furthermore, SSP Thalduwa said that he will submit a written affidavit to the HRCSL about this soon,” the official said.

During the last week of December, a number of visual media outlets reported that queues had consistently been seen at a dairy milk outlet in Nugegoda for a number of days due to the ongoing milk powder shortage in the country. On 30 December 2021, consumers had been told that products will be given on a token basis to them. Media reports show consumers speculating whether the Police had instructed the outlet to not keep consumers in queues outside of it as the President passes the outlet, following claims that on 29 December 2021, consumers had hooted at the President’s vehicles which had passed by the outlet.

On 1 January, United National Society for Self-Employed Trade National Organiser Asha Dilrukshi Perera was questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) over a social media post she had shared about the alleged hooting at the President. At the time, Perera told The Morning that about 15 CID officers had entered her work place on 1 January and had asked to see her phone regarding the post. She claimed that the officers had refused to speak to her lawyer, who had requested a reason for the CID officers request. They had further asked her to make a statement at the CID, following which she had been kept at the CID for approximately five hours. She added that her phone was kept at the CID for an additional two hours. “They told me that the post could threaten the President’s life. It was not a post I had created. It was just one I had shared about somebody hooting at the President. They asked whether I had shared it responsibly,” she said.

The Supreme Court (SC) determined that defamatory, embarrassing, or insulting publications against the President or the Government are a lawful and democratic exercise of freedom of expression. This was determined in the case of Sisira Kumara Wahalathanthri Puhulyay and Another vs. Jayantha Wickramaratne, Inspector General of Police, and Others (SC Fundamental Rights 768/2009) case, where the Police sought to prosecute individuals for harsh statements which were printed on a placard against the Government.