Hizbullah, who used to frequently criticise government policies, has been held at the CID headquarters in Colombo since his arrest on 14 April 2020, with restricted access to his lawyers, family and wife
NEW DELHI — Amnesty International, a United Kingdom-headquartered global human rights organisation, has urged the Sri Lankan government to consider the release of a prominent Muslim human rights lawyer held in detention for more than six months under terror laws.
The government has invoked what Amnestry calls a ‘repressive law’, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), against Hejaaz Hizbullah to keep him locked up without charge or any credible evidence being put before a court.
Hizbullah, who used to frequently criticise government policies, has been held at the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters in Colombo since his arrest on 14 April 2020, with restricted access to his lawyers, family and wife, Amnesty said.
Sri Lanka: Authorities must release prominent human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, held in detention for more than six months under the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) without charge or any credible evidence being put before a court. #lkahttps://t.co/DxShRbKZ76
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) October 16, 2020
Under the PTA, the 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 expires on Saturday 17 October, Amnesty said in a statement on Friday.
“The PTA is a law that has been abused and exploited by the government to gag its critics. Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been held in detention for more than six months without a shred of evidence having been shown to a court that he has done anything wrong–a situation that could yet persist for another year,” said David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Hizbullah, a senior lawyer and minorities and civil rights activist, has fought human rights cases of the members of minority communities. According to Amnesty, he has also been involved in a number of important constitutional cases, including the challenge to the dissolution of Parliament during Sri Lanka’s 2018 constitutional crisis.
“He has been an outspoken voice on issues of reconciliation, co-existence and minority rights,” Amnesty said.
But Sri Lanakan authorities accuse Hizbullah of “aiding and abetting” one of the bombers who perpetrated attacks on churches in Sri Lanka over Easter 2019 and for engaging in activities deemed “detrimental to the religious harmony among communities.”
“The handling of Hejaaz Hizbullah‘s case has trampled over a host of Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations, including the protection from arbitrary detention and unfettered access to legal counsel. This must not be compounded further by yet another unwarranted detention order depriving him of his freedom–this draconian law must not be used to justify his unlawful detention,” said David Griffiths.
“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.”