Responding to the news that Hejaaz Hizbullah, a Sri Lankan lawyer and prisoner of conscience, was granted bail today after almost two years of pre-trial detention under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director, said:
“The court’s decision to grant bail to Hejaaz Hizbullah is a welcome development. Ever since he was arrested in April 2020, prosecutors have only brought baseless accusations against him. Hejaaz is a respected lawyer and minority rights activist who should have never been detained in the first place.
“Today’s news comes two months after the authorities also granted bail to Ahnaf Jazeem, a poet who was detained for 19 months over concerns that his poems and teachings could cause ‘communal disharmony’. While we welcome the developments in each case, hundreds of others remain in detention for charges related to ‘terrorism’, which the authorities have repeatedly used to target minority groups and state critics.
“The Sri Lankan authorities must ensure that all those still detained under the PTA have access to fair bail hearings and release those who have not been charged with recognizable crimes under international law. They must also repeal the PTA and issue an immediate moratorium on its use, as repeated attempts to amend the law have proved futile.”
Amnesty International has extensively documented not only the cases of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem, but also the increased marginalization, discrimination and targeting of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.
Ahnaf Jazeem was arrested in May 2020 but was only granted bail in December 2021. While in detention, the authorities made him sign statements in a language he does not understand and tried to extract forced confessions from him.