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Poet’s court case ends without defence counsel: Lawyer

Detained poet Ahnaf Jazeem has been denied right to counsel for a second time this year, with the Magistrate’s Court case concluding in the absence of defence counsel, claimed his legal representative Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekera.

“The Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of Sri Lanka once again denied poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem his right to counsel, by concealing the fact that indictment has been filed against the poet even by 26 October 2021, when the TID had filed an ex-parte motion on the said date and informed magistrate’s court about filing indictment without informing Ahnaf’s family or counsel. The Magistrate Court case B44230/2020 has thus been concluded in the absence of defence counsel,” Jayasekera noted in a statement last Saturday (6).

He further claimed that this “surreptitious practice” was continued all throughout the prosecution of the poet, most strikingly when he was “stealthily” produced before the Magistrate on 12 June 2021 to remand him.

“Right to counsel is a universally accepted principle of due process, even recognised by the 6th Amendment to the US Constitution. However, this right was earlier denied to Ahnaf by the learned Magistrate, who decided that TID is not obliged to inform the family or counsel of the suspect of his production before the Magistrate, as such obligation is not provided for by the letter of legal procedure of the State,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, indictments were filed against Jazeem in the Puttalam High Court last Friday (5), under Section 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA) No. 48 of 1979. The said section pertains to offences “by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial, or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups”.

Jazeem was arrested in connection to his Tamil language poetry anthology, titled Navarasam, which the authorities have alleged as promoting “extremist” ideology. However, various quarters have since questioned these allegations, pointing out that translations of his work show the exact opposite, where his poems are explicitly against war and violence.

A number of local and international organisations, including Amnesty International, have condemned this arbitrary arrest and called for the poet’s immediate release.

Jazeem’s mother has also submitted a written representation to the Advisory Board of the PTA for his immediate release.