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Amnesty International urges Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission to take 'necessary steps' to protect rights of detained poet

Amnesty International urged the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to call on Sri Lanka to act in accordance with its international human rights obligations and immediately release detained poet, Ahnaf Jazeem, who has been in detention for over 400 days. 

In a letter, the rights group called on the Commission to take "necessary steps" to release Jazeem, who was detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) by Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) after they decided that his book of Tamil language poems, titled Navarasam contained extremist messaging. 

"Throughout his detention, Ahnaf Jazeem has reportedly been held in squalid conditions that may amount to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, and has been denied unrestricted access to lawyers. The authorities have not cooperated with Ahnaf Jazeem’s lawyers in giving notice of court proceedings and privileged conversations between lawyer and client were recorded by the authorities," Amnesty International wrote in their letter. 

When Jazeem was permitted to speak with his lawyers, the conversations were recorded by the authorities. Last month, neither his lawyers or family members were notified of a court hearing against him at the Magistrates’ Court following his prison transfer to Colombo Remand Prison. According to the letter, his lawyers have also stated that Jazeem "has been coerced to make false confessions while under interrogation and has been made to sign documents written in a language he does not understand."

Amnesty also noted the disproportionate use of the PTA against Tamils and Muslims and reminded the state’s obligations to guarantee its citizens the right to a fair trial under the ICCPR, a convention that Sri Lanka is a signatory to and hence, bound by. 

It urged the Commission to forthwith take the requisite steps to protect Jazeem’s fundamental rights and to release him in the absence of credible proof of wrongdoing. The letter further demands the state to repeal the PTA “and end its use immediately” and to give remedies and reparations to those affected by the legislation. 

Last month, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the European Union (EU) to consider withdrawing preferential access to its markets, known as GSP+, unless the Sri Lankan government complies with its commitments, including repealing the PTA. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called for an increase in the European Commission’s scrutiny on the state in creating a timeline and concrete benchmarks for replacing the Act and fulfilling other human rights obligations, or otherwise suspend Sri Lanka's access to GSP+.

Read Amnesty's letter here.  

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