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Rights groups raise deep concerns over continued detention of human rights lawyer

Prominent human rights lawyer and outspoken government critic, Hajeez Hizbullah’s continued incarceration has raised concerned amongst rights groups. 

The Muslim lawyer was detained in April for over six months under the widely criticised Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and has remained in detention without charges or any credible evidence being submitted before a court. As per the PTA, Sri Lankan authorities can detain any ‘suspect’ for up to 18 months, using detention orders lasting 90 days at a time. Hizbullah’s second period of detention is due to expire on 17 October 2020. 

Two detention orders issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that Hizbullah allegedly aided and abetted the 2019 Easter church bombings and engaged in activities deemed ‘detrimental to the religious harmony among communities’.

Commenting on Hizbullah’s detention, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International said that Hizbullah’s arrest “had a chilling effect on anyone involved in peaceful dissent and advocacy, be it lawyers, human rights defenders or members of the minority Muslim community”. 

Director of the Office of the Secretary-General of Amnesty International said the “draconian law [PTA] must not be used to justify his unlawful detention”. “The Sri Lankan authorities must repeal the PTA and provide people who have suffered because of it the justice they are owed, in the form of remedies and reparations,” he added. 

According to Al Jazeera, some critics suggest that he was targeted due to his work on interfaith relations and reconciliation amid rising Islamophobia in the island nation fraught with sectarian and ethnic divide.

A hearing of his case will take place at a local magistrate court in Colombo again on 28 October. However, activists expressed there is ‘little hope of bail’.

Read more from Amnesty International here & Al Jazeera here.

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