The criminal investigation department of the Sri Lanka police had detained Hejaaz Hizbullah, an attorney-at-law under the island nation’s Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Sri Lankan lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah has obtained bail from a court of appeal after 20 months in detention under the country’s prevention of terrorism act (PTA).
Hizbullah has been under detention since April 2020 when he was picked up under the provisions in following the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed 269 and injured over 500. The criminal investigations department of the Sri Lankan police did not charge him for any offence for 10 of the 20 months he was held captive.
(Health authorities had advised him to stay at home since the suspected he had come in contact with people with COVID-19. This was a ruse so to apprehend him.)
Hizbullah’s trial has been controversial. His lawyers argued that Hizbullah is being charged because of his work as a lawyer and a defender of human rights. They said that he was being blamed for his association with a businessman whose sons were suspected to have carried out the Easter Sunday bombings.
As calls for his release grew within and outside Sri Lanka, the government shuffled charges and accused him of inciting racial disharmony.
Besides not being provided free access to his lawyers or to meet with his family, the police was even pulled up by a Colombo magistrate for botching up an identification parade by acquainting school-going children with his picture before the exercise. The investigating team had alleged that Hizbullah was involved in preaching hate.
Sri Lanka’s prevention of terrorism act (PTA) allows authorities to detain any suspect without charges and without producing a suspect before a judge.
In 2021, Amnesty International declared Hizbullah a prisoner of conscience. “He is a prisoner of conscience and must me immediately and unconditionally released and all charges against him dropped,” the UK-based international human rights organisation said on July 14.
Amnesty International said Hizbullah was detained on “trumped-up charges” under the “draconian” PTA. “He has been targeted for his work, and his advocacy for the rights of Muslim minorities in the country,” the organisation said.
Human rights defenders have criticised the use of PTA to crush dissent and justify the forcible disappearance of people.
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