Immediate Release of Lawyer and Prisoner of Conscience Hejaaz Hizbullah

 - August 31st, 2021 - 

26th August  2021  marks  the  500th day  of Hejaaz  Hizbullah’s  incarceration.  Mr.  Hizbullah  is  a prominent Sri Lankan lawyer and advocate of Muslim rights.

Mr. Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on 14th April 2020. He was initially falsely accused of being involved in the Easter Sunday Attacks. A vicious and  highly prejudicial disinformation campaign was launched against him in the mainstream media to create a public  impression  that  he  was  guilty  of  terrorist  activity.  Despite  the  lapse  of  over  sixteen  months since his arrest, no evidence connecting him to any terrorist activity has been presented before any court.

An indictment under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act has now been served on Mr. Hizbullah. According to the indictment, Mr.  Hizbullah  is  not  accused  of  involvement  in  the  Easter  Sunday  Attacks,  but  is  only  accused  of making  certain  statements  to  students  in  contravention  of  these  laws.  The  only  evidence  for  the indictment appears to be a statement by one child, in which Mr. Hizbullah is described as a person who  owns  a  university  in  Batticaloa  –  a  clear  allusion  to  a  prominent  politician  bearing  the  same name. Furthermore, the Fort Magistrate ordered an investigation into how the purported contents of another statement made by the same child to the Magistrate were ‘leaked’ to the media, despite being given  in  confidence  to  the  Judge.  That  investigation  has  not  been  pursued  properly  by  the  Police.

Four other children who were taken into CID custody for questioning (at the same time the child upon whose statement the indictment is based was taken in to custody) have petitioned the Supreme Court that they were coerced into making false statements against Mr. Hizbullah. Other witnesses including two  teachers  have  also  petitioned  the  Supreme  Court  that  the  CID  tortured  them  in  an  attempt  to obtain false testimony regarding Mr. Hizbullah.

He was recognised as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International on 14th July 2021. We note that  a  Prisoner  of  Conscience  is  by  definition  a  person  who  is  imprisoned  solely  because  of  their conscientiously  held  beliefs,  or  for  discriminatory  reasons  including  relating  to  their  ethnic  or religious  identity  in  the  circumstances  leading  to  their  arrest.  Therefore,  the  recognition  of  Mr. Hizbullah as a Prisoner of Conscience is an important development that reaffirms his innocence.

Several international human rights organisations have called for Mr. Hizbullah’s immediate release, and  for  all charges against him to be dropped. Sri Lanka’s academic community and civil society organisations have likewise acknowledged the fact that he has been wrongly imprisoned due to his work as a lawyer, and his Muslim identity, and have also called for his immediate release.

We the undersigned reiterate these demands, and call on the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Hizbullah, and to drop all charges against him.

We note that Sri Lanka’s human rights record is currently under review at the United Nations Human Rights  Council,  and  by  the  European  Commission.  One  of  the  most  serious  abuses  noted  by  both these  bodies  pertains  to  the  continued  use  of  the  Prevention  of  Terrorism  Act  (PTA),  which  has facilitated  the  arbitrary  arrest  and  long-term  detention  of  human  rights  defenders  such  as  Mr. Hizbullah. We also wish to highlight the fact that Tamil persons have endured prolonged detention both at the pre-trial and trial stages under the PTA. In certain cases, the detainees have been acquitted after detention periods of up to fifteen years.

The Government of Sri Lanka has made repeated promises to reform the PTA, and has consistently reneged on these promises. We call upon the international community to insist that the government demonstrates its good faith with respect to reforming the PTA by immediately releasing those who have been unfairly incarcerated under this law. The very fact that the government has refused to even consent to Mr. Hizbullah’s bail demonstrates the government’s bad faith.

We call upon members  of the Human Rights Council, and the European  Commission, to treat Mr. Hizbullah’s case, and other similar cases, as emblematic reflections of the egregious human rights abuses that take place under the PTA. We accordingly call on members states of the Council, and all members  of  the  international  community,  to  urge  the  Government  of  Sri  Lanka  to  release  Mr. Hizbullah forthwith, and desist from deploying the PTA.

(Endorsed by 23 organizations and 75 individuals listed below)

26th August 2021

Organizations

    Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)

    Centre for Policy Alternatives

    Civil Society Solidarity Forum

    Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU)

    Human Rights Office, Kandy

    Human Rights Watch

    International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL)

    International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)

    Law and Society Trust

    Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers

    National Christian Evangelical Alliance

    National Christian Evangelical Alliance

    National Fisheries Solidarity Movement

    Nawa Sama Samaja Party (NSSP)

    People for Human Rights and Equality (PHRE)

    People’s Rights Group (PRG Sri Lanka), United Kingdom

    Rights Now- Collective for Democracy

    SAFMA Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka Young Journalists’ Association

    Voice for Democracy in Sri Lanka (VDSL)

    Women for Justice and Peace in Sri Lanka

    Women’s Action Network

Individuals

    Amal de Chickera

    Ambika Sathkunanathan

    Ameer Faaiz, Attorney-at-Law

    Angelica Chandrasekeran, Counsellor

    Anithra Varia

    Antony Gratian

    Bhavani Fonseka

    Bishop Duleep de Chickera

    Daniel Alphonsus

    Dharmasiri Lankapeli

    Dinushika Dissanayake

    Dr Lionel Bopage, Convenor – Voice for Democracy in Sri Lanka (VDSL) International

Collective

    Dr T Jayasingam

    Dr. K. Guruparan, Attorney-at-Law

    Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

    G. A Prabath kumara

    Gayathri Gamage

    Godfrey Yogarajah

    Herman Kumara

    Hilary Wirasinha

    Inshira Faliq, Attorney-at-Law

    Ishara Gunawardena

    Jansila Majeed

    Javid Yusuf, Attorney at Law

    Jeanne Samuel

    Joanne Senn

    K. S. Ratnavale, Attorney at law

    Khyati Wikramanayake

    Kshama Ranawana

    Kumar David

    Lakshman Gunasekara

    Lasantha De Silva

    Lucille Abeykoon

    Luwie Niranjan, Attorney-at-Law

    M H Mohamed Hisham

    Mario Gomez

    Marisa de Silva

    Nagulan Nesiah

    Nilshan Fonseka

    Peter Rezel

    Philip Dissanayake – R2L

    Prabodha Rathnayaka, Attorney at law

    Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, Former Member of the Election Commission

    Prof. Stuart Russell, Macquarie University School of Law, Sydney Australia (retired)

    Ramesh Fernando, Attorney-at-Law

    Rev. Fr. M. Sathivel

    Rev. Andrew Devadason

    Rev. Dr. Jayasiri T. Peiris, former General Secretary, National Christian Council

    Rev, Marc Billimoria

    Rev. Fr. Nandana Manathunga

    Rev. Fr. Oswald B. Firth, OMI

    Rev. Fr. Terence Fernando

    Rev. Maxwell Doss

    Rohini Hensman, Writer and independent scholar

    Ruki Fernando

    Ruwan Laknath Jayakody

    S. Balakrishnan

    Sabra Zahid

    Saheli Wikramanayake

    Sampath Samarakoon, Editor – Vikalpa.org

    Sanjana Hattotuwa

    Sanjit Dias

    Sarah Arumugam, Attorney -at-Law

    Selvaraja Rajasegar

    Shalomi Daniel, Attorney at Law

    Shanil Wijesinha, Attorney at law

    Sharmaine Gunaratne

    Shreen Saroor

    Siritunga Jayasuriya USP

    Srinath Perera, Attorney at Law, General Secretary, Free Trade Union Centre, National

Organizer, United Socialist Party

    Suchith Abeyewickreme

    Sunanda Deshapriya – Sri Lanka Brief

    Thisath Thoradeniya

    Tisaranee Gunasekara

    Ven. Fr. Samuel J Ponniah

    Venuri Perera

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