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BHRC expresses concern over continued detention of lawyer Hejaaz

2 years ago

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The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has expressed concerns at reports of the continued detention of prominent human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). They have noted that Hizbullah is a member of the Muslim minority and had been involved in a number of significant constitutional cases against the government and has acted for the rights of Muslim minorities in the country. "He is known for his moderate and reformist views within that community. Hizbullah was arrested on 14 April 2020 by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and placed under a detention order issued by the President of Sri Lanka," it said. He has been detained for more than six months without charge, without being brought before a court, and without meaningful access to legal counsel and family members. No detention order was given to him until 25 April 2020.  Domestic law mandates that a person arrested under the PTA must be produced before a magistrate within 72 hours if no valid detention order is issued. "The detention is reportedly vague, citing the detention of Hizbullah for alleged involvement in the Easter Sunday 2019 terrorist attack in Colombo and for engaging in “activities detrimental to religious harmony among communities”. Subsequent to his arrest, he has also been alleged to have misused a charity, ‘Save the Pearls’, for the indoctrination of children into extremism. Notwithstanding these serious allegations, no evidence has been produced to a court, nor any specific charges formulated against Mr Hizbullah in support of these allegations. In particular, BHRC understands that four children have petitioned the Supreme Court alleging that they were intimidated after Mr Hizbullah’s arrest into making false statements relating to the activities of the charity," the statement said. The detention order was renewed on 14 October 2020.  The listing of his case before a Magistrate on 28 October 2020 was postponed to February 2021 reportedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 29 October 2020, the CID is said to have completed its investigations.  The matter is now being investigated by the Terrorism Investigation Division of the police.  No charges have yet been proffered. "The BHRC stands concerned that Hizbullah appears to have been arrested and detained arbitrarily and unlawfully. Furthermore, he appears to have been targeted in connection with his work as a lawyer in cases challenging the government under the Constitution and hate speech, violence and discrimination against the Muslim community. "We urge the Sri Lankan government to release Hejaaz Hizbullah from detention, to uphold the rule of law and its international legal obligations and to take all necessary steps to ensure that lawyers in Sri Lanka are able to carry out their professional duties without fear of reprisal, hindrance, intimidation or harassment," it said.

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