Today marks a year since the detention of prominent Muslim human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah, who was detained under Sri Lanka’s draconian and internationally condemned Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Hizbullah was arrested under allegations of aiding and abating those involved in the Easter Sunday attacks as well as engaging in activities deemed “detrimental to the religious harmony among communities”. However, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has noted that he appears to “have been targeted in connection with his work as a lawyer in cases challenging the government under the Constitution and hate speech, violence and discrimination against the Muslim community.”
Amnesty International has a pattern in Sri Lanka of “targeting those who have played an active role in investigating, documenting, litigating, or reporting on human rights violations and abuses, and advocating on behalf of the victims”.
Whilst Sri Lanka had previously committed to repealing the draconian PTA measure, they have since expanded it under the pretence of “deradicalization”. The PTA enables Sri Lanka’s security forces to detain individuals without charges for prolonged periods and has been linked to ongoing accounts of torture.
In the BHRC’s statement they noted that following the arrest of Hizbullah, the government accused the charity “Save the Pearls” of indoctrinating children into extremism. They highlight that no evidence has been produced to support the claims against Hizbullah.
In a press statement last year, Hizbullah’s family highlighted the “vile and vicious” media attacks on him as well as the conflicting narratives of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). They further defend “Save the Pearls” as “an entirely legitimate, well known and respectable organisation providing welfare to people of all communities”. Sri Lanka has since issued a ban on 11 Islamic organisations including “Save the Pearls”.
Whilst being detained for over a year Hejaaz has had limited access to his family which has been closely monitored by CID officials. He has since tested positive for COVID-19 whilst in detention.