Eleven international rights organisations have jointly called on the Sri Lankan government to "immediately and unconditionally" release prominent Muslim human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah, from his arbitrary 15-month detention under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) legislation.
Hizbullah was originally detained on 14 April 2020 for reportedly aiding and abetting one of the perpetrators of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings as well as engaging in activities deemed “detrimental to the religious harmony among communities." This allegation was later withdrawn and has since been replaced with several other accusations.
In their statement, the rights organisations highlighted that "since the Sri Lankan authorities have so far been unable to show any evidence of wrongdoing, it appears he is being targeted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression" and therefore, demanded the charges against him to be dropped.
The statement further stresses that the Sri Lankan authorities have "repeatedly denied the right to due process safeguards recognised by international law", including the failure to inform Hizbullah the reason for his arrest and preventing access to bail.
The PTA has been linked to cases of enforced disappearances, sexual violence and torture. Several Sri Lankan regimes have been criticised for the failure to repeal the PTA, despite widespread criticism from human rights defenders and international NGOs. Earlier this year, the Rajapaksa regime, expanded the powers of the PTA by adding a regulation that allows two years of detention without trial for causing “religious, racial, or communal disharmony.”
The statement described the arbitrary and prolonged detentions under the PTA as a “flagrant violation of the right to liberty and the right to fair trial” and demanded that the widely condoned anti-terrorism statute be repealed. It also called on the state to provide access to effective remedies and reparations to those whose rights were infringed by the PTA.
We are deeply concerned by Sri Lanka’s continuing use of the PTA to enable arbitrary detention, despite commitments made to repeal the Act.
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) July 28, 2021
Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution that calls for Sri Lanka to repeal its “abusive and draconian” Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and to immediately suspend the “deradicalization” regulation, at the risk of having its favourable trading preferences, under the GSP+ agreement, suspended at the periodic GSP+ review of Sri Lanka in November 2021.
Read full statement here.