Attorney-at-law Hejaaz Hizbullah has been granted bail by the Court of Appeal after being detained for over 20 months.
Hizbullah was released on bail today after the Puttalam High Court judge refused to grant bail to him last month.
Refusing bail, she claimed that it was not under her jurisdiction, despite the Attorney General having consented to grant bail.
The judge further informed the defense to request bail from the Court of Appeal on the 9th of February 2022.
The bail application had been filed at the Puttalam High Court after Hizbullah’s lawyer had agreed to a settlement with the other parties in the interest of his client.
On 20th January, the Attorney General’s (AG) Department said it has no objections to releasing Hizbullah on bail subject to conditions.
The AG’s Department informed the Court of Appeal that the bail will be granted only if the defence makes an application for bail at the Puttalam High Court when the case is taken up for hearing today.
Attorney-at-law Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested in April 2020 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and has been in remand custody for over 20 months.
An indictment had been served on Hejaaz Hizbullah under the PTA and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act accusing him of making certain statements to students in contravention of these laws.
The case against Sri Lankan human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah at the Puttalam High Court will be taken up on 28 January 2022. In the run-up to the hearing, Lawyers for Lawyers has sent a letter to the Sri Lankan authorities to express concern about the trial and ongoing detention of Hejaaz Hizbullah, who is the first lawyer to have been detained under Sri Lanka’s flawed Prevention of Terrorism Act.
On 14 April 2020, Mr. Hizbullah, minority rights advocate and legal counsel for many Muslim victims of human rights violations, was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). No reasons for the arrest were provided to Mr. Hizbullah or his family at the time of the arrest. He has remained in detention ever since. It has been reported that the detention order states that Mr. Hizbullah is being investigated for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the Easter Sunday bombers and for engaging in activities deemed “detrimental to the religious harmony among communities”. On 3 March 2021, Mr. Hizbullah was officially charged with “inciting communal disharmony under” under the PTA, for “advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” under the ICCPR Act of 2007 and for conspiracy and abetment charges under the Penal Code.
On 10 December 2020, Mr. Hizbullah’s lawyers filed a writ petition before the Court of Appeal seeking release from detention and access to Mr. Hizbullah. The lawyers submitted and the court noted that Mr. Hizbullah did not have access to his lawyers maintaining confidentially since September 2020. In the Petition, Mr. Hizbullah’s lawyers stated that were given access to their client on only four occasions and that the authorities were present on all occasions around the lawyers and Mr. Hizbullah. During the Appeal Court hearing on 15 December 2020, the Attorney General agreed to grant Mr. Hizbullah confidential access to counsel.
According to our information, on 19 November 2021, the bail hearing of Mr. Hizbullah took place at the Puttalam High Court. During this hearing, the judge stated that the High Court does not have the jurisdiction to grant bail under the PTA, and additionally pointed towards an inconsistency between the PTA and the constitution, which should be dealt with on a higher level and the legislative branch of government.
On 8 July 2021, I wrote a letter with seven other UN Human Rights experts regarding the continued detention of human rights defender Mr. Hejaaz Omer Hizbullah, who has been charged with terrorism- related offences.
Mr. Hejaaz Omer Hizbullah is a prominent lawyer and a human rights defender, and member of the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka. Mr. Hizbullah is a strong advocate against hate speech in the country and has been involved in a number of high- profile cases, including with regard to violence and discrimination towards the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Hizbullah was the subject of one previous communication sent on 22 June 2020 (LKA 4/2020). In this communication we expressed concern over the arrest and detention of Mr. Hizbullah on 14 April 2020 and his lack of access to legal counsel. Mr. Hizbullah was initially under investigation for his alleged involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks of 2019, before the focus of the investigation was changed to his involvement with the Save the Pearls charity. The Government did not respond.
On 19 August 2020, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) filed a report regarding an ongoing investigation into Mr. Hizbullah’s activities. The report allegedly claimed that Mr. Hizbullah had acted as counsel on several occasions for individuals involved in terrorism and unlawful activity, and that he had been collecting data and information on various attacks on Muslims.
As previously communicated, the evidence allegedly incriminating Mr. Hizbullah was related to phone calls he made with a suicide bomber at the Easter Sunday attacks. It has been alleged that Mr. Hizbullah made 14 phone calls to this individual over a period of five years, being his legal representative in civil property dispute cases.
Mr. Hizbullah later faced accusations that he radicalised children at the charity, Save the Pearls. He is the only member of the organisation that has been arrested. Since his arrest, leading figures of the organisation have sworn affidavits attesting to the falsity of rumours that children were radicalised. And The former Head of Counter- Terrorism at the Sate Intelligence Services of Sri Lanka, who is also a member of the organisation, has sworn an affidavit attesting to the fact that the activities of the charity were entirely legitimate, in housing and educating vulnerable children.
During the first nine months of his arrest and detention that took place on 14 April 2020, Mr. Hizbullah was permitted just four visits from his legal counsel, all of which were supervised by the authorities. His lawyers filed a petition to the Court of Appeal, which was granted on 15 December 2020, allowing him to speak with his lawyers confidentially for the first time since his arrest. His access to lawyers is still reportedly limited and he can speak only occasionally to his family over the phone.
On 8 January 2021, at 2pm, Mr. Hizbullah was due to make his first appearance before the Colombo Fort Magistrate. At 1:55pm, Mr. Hizbullah’s lawyer was informed that Mr. Hizbullah had contracted COVID-19 and would be taken to a quarantine centre. No further information was given about Mr. Hizbullah’s condition or recovery. On 18 January 2021, Mr. Hizbullah was returned to his original cell.
On 18 February 2021, Mr. Hejaaz Hizbullah was produced before the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court. The court decided the extension of his custody until 3 March 2021.
On 3 March 2021, Mr. Hizbullah was charged with “inciting communal disharmony” under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act section 2(1)(h). A few days later, on 9 March 2021, the Government issued a regulation expanding the application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. According to the text of the regulation – The Prevention of Terrorism (De- radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 1 of 2021 – persons suspected of acts of, or incitement to violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony, would be held in custody and undergo a process of “ rehabilitation ” at an undefined “ Centre ” for a maximum period of two years, instead of having the relevant authorities instituting the established judicial procedures against them.
Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent Sri Lankan lawyer, was arrested on 14 April 2020 and has since been detained on trumped-up charges under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Hejaaz Hizbullah has been targeted for his work, and his advocacy for the rights of Muslim minorities in the country. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released and all charges against him dropped.
TAKE ACTION: WRITE AN APPEAL IN YOUR OWN WORDS OR USE THIS MODEL LETTER
Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam Attorney General’s Department Hulftsdorp Street, Colombo 12 Sri Lanka Fax: +94 112 436421 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Dear Attorney General,
I am deeply concerned about the prolonged detention of Sri Lankan lawyer and minority and civic rights activist Hejaaz Hizbullah. Detained since 14 April 2020 on trumped-up charges under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), no credible evidence of wrongdoing has yet been presented before a court.
It is distressing to learn that, since his arrest, Hejaaz Hizbullah has been repeatedly denied due process safeguards recognized by international law. He has been held in prolonged administrative detention without judicial oversight to monitor his wellbeing, without access to bail. While in police custody he was prevented from accessing his legal counsel in private until an order was made by the Court of Appeal. Even following his indictment in February 2021 and being moved to judicial remand, access to family and counsel has been restricted.
Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu, who was honored by the U.S. as an International Woman of Courage (IWOC) on Monday, remained incommunicado on Tuesday after failing to attend an online award ceremony, amid fears that she and her husband Bao Longjun are being held by state security police.
Repeated calls to Wang’s cell phone and to that of her husband and fellow rights lawyer Bao Longjun rang unanswered.
A friend of Wang’s who asked to remain anonymous said her “disappearance” was likely linked to her involvement in a legal case in the southern province of Guangdong.
“She is working on a case, and the state security police asked her to postpone working on it for a couple of days so they could take her to Wuhan on [enforced] ‘vacation’,” the friend said, adding that the couple haven’t been in contact with family or friends since noon on Sunday.
“I’m a bit worried that the state security police will take advantage of this opportunity, and that they will remain incommunicado even after the sensitive dates have passed,” the friend said.
Wang and Bao had been assisting in the case of Niu Tengyu, who is currently serving a 14-year jail term for allegedly posting a photo of Xi Mingze, daughter of ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping, to meme site Zhina Wiki, an act that was later blamed by police on Niu’s Vulgar Wiki.
The lawyers’ “disappearance” comes after they spoke to RFA about detailed allegations of torture made by Niu, relating to his interrogation at the hands of police starting in December 2019.
Sri Lanka’s prominent human rights lawyer Hejaz Hezbullah, who has been detained for over 10 months for alleged links in the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attack, was on Thursday presented in a court for the first time since his detention, a move his lawyers believe has been taken ahead of a UN session focussing on the country’s human rights record.
The magistrate’s court remanded Hezbullah until March 3 after charging him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the international covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR), his lawyers said.
The court appearance comes ahead of next week’s UNHRC sessions where Sri Lanka’s human rights accountability record is to come under focus, they said.
Hezbullah was arrested in April last year for alleged links in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings carried out by a local jihadi group. The police alleged that Hezbullah had aided and abetted the Easter Sunday bombings.
Nine suicide bombers belonging to Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, 2019, killing 258 people, including 11 Indians.
Hezbullah was not given access to his lawyers or the family during the detention. He was also not produced in the court during this time and held without a charge despite international pressure from European Union, Amnesty International and other right.
The principal of a Madrasa School has been arrested over links to Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah.
Attorney General Dappula de Livera had earlier directed Inspector General of Police (IGP) C.D Wickremeratne to report facts and produce the Principal of the Madrasa School, Mohammed Shakeel before the relevant Magistrate’s Court for allegedly abetting Hejaaz Hizbullah on charges under section 2 (1) (h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act.
Accordingly, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) arrested Mohammed Shakeel.
Earlier today, the AG directed the IGP to report facts on the case linked to detained human rights activist and Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah.
The AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne told Colombo Gazette that IGP C. D. Wickremeratne was further directed to produce Hizbullah before the relevant Magistrate’s Court.
Hizbullah will be presented in Court on charges filed under Section 2(1) (h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Section 3(1) of the International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights (ICCPR) Act.
The human rights lawyer has been held at the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters in Colombo since his arrest on 14 April 2020, with restricted access to his lawyers, family and wife.
Hizbullah was arrested on charges of allegedly “aiding and abetting” one of the bombers involved in the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.
According to information we have received, a Sri Lankan Attorney General has agreed to grant detained human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah confidential access to his lawyers for the first time since his arrest on 14 April 2020.
Mr. Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on 14 April 2020 and placed under a detention order by the President of Sri Lanka, purportedly under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). No reasons for the arrest were provided to Mr. Hizbullah or his family at the time of the arrest. It has been reported that the detention order says that Mr. Hizbullah is being investigated for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the Easter Sunday bombers and for engaging in activities deemed “detrimental to the religious harmony among communities”. The PTA permits the Sri Lankan government to detain a suspect without any charges for 18 months.
It has been reported that Mr. Hizbullah’s detention order was renewed on 14 October 2020 and that the listing of his case before a Magistrate on 28 October 2020 was postponed to February, reportedly due to the COVID-19 crisis.
On 10 December 2020, Mr. Hizbullah’s lawyers filed a writ petition before the Court of Appeal seeking release from detention and access to Hizbullah. The lawyers submitted and the court noted that Hizbullah did not have access to his lawyers maintaining confidentially since September. In the Petition, Mr. Hizbullah’s lawyers stated that were given access to their client on only four occassions and that the authorities were present on all occasions around the lawyers and Mr. Hizbullah. During the Appeal Court hearing on 15 December, the Attorney General agreed to grant Mr. Hizbullah confidential access to counsel.
Following the announcement of the release of a list of complaints and information received by the Office on Missing Persons regarding people who were disappeared during Sri Lanka’s internal conflicts, the country’s authorities must now deliver justice, truth and reparation to the families, Amnesty International said today.
On 26 November 2020, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) released a list of “missing persons” to its offices. The list includes those who are unaccounted for either in connection with the conflict in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, due to civil or political unrest, have been subject to enforced disappearance, or personnel of the armed forces, or police who have been identified as Missing In Action. The OMP has a mandate to collate data related to “missing persons” obtained by various past processes and to receive any new complaints.
Threats, harassment and intimidation
In their search for justice, truth and reparation, families of the disappeared and lawyers acting on their behalf continue to face threats and harassment from the authorities and from non-state actors.
Human rights lawyer Kumaravadivel Guruparan was forced from his position as a senior lecturer and head of the University of Jaffna’s Law Department after pressure was brought to bear on the University authorities by the Sri Lankan military. The Adalaylam Centre for Policy Research, a human rights organization founded by Gurupuran, has been subject to multiple visits from officials inquiring about its staff and funding. Guruparan has been representing the families of 24 Tamil youths who have not been seen or heard from since they were taken into military custody in 1996.
Achala Senevirathna, a lawyer, who is appearing in court on behalf of the relatives of 11 youths who were allegedly forcibly disappeared by a group of officers of the Sri Lankan Navy in 2008-2009, has been subject to a torrent of threatening abuse online and offline. Among the abuse Senevirathna has been subject to, she has received threatening phone calls and text messages from the accused naval officers and people believed to be close to them, using obscene language. Her Facebook profile has been targeted by people distorting her photos, and making threats of rape and murder. She says these threats have had impacts on her personal life and her career. Despite her complaining about these threats, the authorities have taken no action so far.
Seven months have passed since the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah. When he was taken into custody on 14 April, his friends and family, and some within his fraternity, decried the obvious injustice. They were quickly told to quieten down and ‘let the justice system do its work’. They were told not to interfere with the investigation. They were told to be patient, as the truth would eventually emerge, and perhaps set Hejaaz free.
Seven months have passed. The investigations continue with no indictment in sight. If law enforcement authorities and prosecutors actually had a case against Hejaaz, wouldn’t they have framed charges by now? Should we let the authorities investigate in perpetuity?
Seven months have passed, and the media circus has dissipated, making clowns out of all those who prejudged Hejaaz’s guilt. The media callously aired so-called ‘damning’ evidence, and set out to make a monster out of Hejaaz. They have only made him a martyr, as none of the evidence appears to be credible.
Seven months have passed. Hejaaz is yet to be produced before a judge. A Magistrate has repeatedly expressed concerns over the handling of the investigations. But he has no power under our draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to insist that Hejaaz be produced in court. So Hejaaz’s virtually incommunicado detention continues without any judicial supervision.
Hejaaz’s case is no outlier. It reflects both the danger faced by lawyers who dare do the work of justice, and the indifference of many others who care not to question injustice. So it is not just Hejaaz who is on trial right now. The bell tolls for the entire profession. Those who walk in Hejaaz’s footsteps will feel the deterring weight of the sheer absurdity of his predicament; they will be tempted to abandon their path because they know they could be next. If the injustice against Hejaaz is left unaddressed, it sets a new precedent for all lawyers: they now confront the risk of being punished for doing their job, and face the danger of being abandoned by their colleagues.