Lankan activists continue agitation against archaic alcohol laws despite new setback

Petitioners of a case filed in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Wednesday challenging a decision to revoke an order to allow women to be employed in places of the production and sale of alcohol, were scrambling together on Thursday to prepare a revised petition.

This came after the Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera on Thursday issued the gazette notification nullifying his earlier January 10 order permitting women to work in places where liquor is produced or served, and also be able to purchase liquor.

Wednesday’s petition by a group of 11 rights activists cum veteran professionals had sought an interim order barring the minister from issuing the said revocation gazette until the petition was heard.
Sources close to the petitioners said they were now revising the petition to seek a court ruling against the old 1979 law on the grounds of discrimination and gender bias.

The earlier petition also noted that “an imposition of a prohibition applicable to members of only one gender would tantamount to an unequal treatment of the members of such gender”.

The petitioners are Ms. Nishanthi Bandaranayake, M.D.J.B. Fernando, Samanalee Fonseka, Chandima Ravini Jinadasa, Deepanjalie Abeywardana, Sabrina Esufally, Sharanya Sekaram, Randhula de Silva, Meneka Galgamuwa, Sujatha Gamage and Visakha Perera Tillekeratne.

The Government has said the gazette revoking permission, only granted a few days ago by the Finance Minister, for women to be employed in a pub or place of production and also to sell alcohol (like what men are entitled to), will be issued after the return of Minister Mangala Samaraweera from an overseas visit. On Thursday the Minister issued this gazette.

Last week the Minister issued two gazettes, one undoing an archaic law which barred women from purchasing liquor and also selling it, and the second – to extend the opening hours in liquor shops, pubs and restaurants. On Sunday, the President ordered both these new rules to be revoked.
The Minister, the Treasury Secretary and the Attorney General have been cited as respondents. The petitioners state that this prohibition was a draconian measure that was arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable and discriminatory to female citizens of the Republic.

“The petitioners state that the above circumstances gives rise to a reasonable apprehension regarding an imminent infringement of the petitioners’ right to equality and equal protection of the law guaranteed to them by Article 12 (1) of the Constitution. The petitioners state that the above circumstances gives rise to a reasonable apprehension regarding an imminent infringement of the Petitioners’ right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of their sex guaranteed to them by Article 12(2) of the Constitution,” the petition noted.

Taken from The Sunday Times