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European human rights ambassadors call on Sri Lanka to release detained poet

Ahnaf Jazeem

Nine European human rights ambassadors have called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately release Ahnaf Jazeem, a detained poet and teacher, or uphold his right to a fair trial. 

Ahnaf Jazeem, was detained on May 16, 2020, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), over unsubstantiated claims that his book of Tamil language poems, titles Navarasam contained extremist messaging. 

"We join a number of human rights organisations in calling for either the immediate release of Mr Jazeem, or for prompt charges in full accordance with human rights international standards, including the right to a fair trial." 

The ambassadors also called on the state to review the PTA "without further delay" and to "ensure that any legislation on combating terrorism complies fully with the State's international human rights and humanitarian law obligations." 

The notorious PTA allows individuals to be detained for 18 months without charge or trial, though some detainees have been in custody for decades.

 In 2010, Sri Lanka lost access to the EU's GSP+ scheme due its abysmal human rights record. However, Sri Lanka's access to the trade concession was reinstated in 2017 despite breaching many of the conventions. 

Sri Lanka has failed to repeal the PTA, a key commitment made by Sri Lanka to secure the favourable trading relationship. The Rajapaksa administration have chosen to retain the legislation, withdraw the counter-terror legislation which was proposed to replace it and have now expanded upon the draconian legislation. 

The statement by the EU ambassadors follows the passage of a resolution in the European Parliament decrying the deterioration of human rights; the continued use of the PTA; and the 'deplorable' religious discrimination. The resolution calls on the European Council to reconsider the GSP+ agreement and demands that those inciting religious hatred be held to account, "including within the government and military”.

Read the full EU Ambassadors statement here.

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