11 global organisations demand Hizbullah’s release
2 years ago
Big names such as Amnesty International, HRW among signatories
BY Pamodi Waravita A total of 11 organisations including the highly influential Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called for the immediate release of detained Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, approximately a month after Amnesty International South Asia described Hizbullah as a ‘prisoner of conscience’. “Hizbullah was arrested in April 2020 under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA), No. 48 of 1979 as amended. He was accused of aiding and abetting Inshaf Ahamed (who was involved in the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday bombings), an accusation that has since been withdrawn. Since Hizbullah has been in detention, the allegations against him have changed on several occasions. The latest allegation is a speech related offence of causing communal disharmony, based on a statement made to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) by a child regarding a speech allegedly made by Hizbullah in Puttalam. Other children who were questioned at the same time by the same officers filed fundamental rights cases claiming that they were coerced by Police officers to falsely implicate Hizbullah. Combined with the repeated changes in the allegations, this leads us to believe that the allegations against him are unsupported by any credible evidence. In the absence of any credible evidence presented before a court of law, Hizbullah should be released immediately and unconditionally,” the organisations stated. The statement has also noted the harmful effects of the PTA, noting that it “has been used in the past to prevent and effectively punish the exercise of the freedom of expression, particularly of critics of the Government, including journalists.” Earlier this year, the European Union (EU) Parliament, called upon the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to repeal the PTA, and the EU Commission is to consider the temporary withdrawal of the Generalised Scheme/System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade concession from Sri Lanka, if it is not done. However, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for the Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward, in its interim report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa this month, has said that it does not agree with the calls to repeal the PTA. “Hizbullah is one of the many people detained for inordinate lengths of time without due process under Sri Lanka’s draconian counter terrorism laws. In a study published in December 2020, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) found that many PTA prisoners were in remand for up to 15 to 20 years. This is an abuse of detainees held under the PTA and is a flagrant violation of the rights to liberty and a fair trial, as protected under Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), respectively. Many PTA detainees have also been allegedly tortured or ill treated while in custody,” the statement yesterday added. The statement was signed by Amnesty International, Article 19, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the Front Line Defenders, HRW, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Initiative, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), the International Working Group on Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Truth and Justice.