President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned 94 people on June 24, 2021; only 16 of which were…
DOB: August 25, 1980
Identity: Sri Lankan Male (Muslim)
Education: University College London, U. of London
Profession: Minority rights advocate and legal counsel (constitutional law, human rights, tax, customs and revenue law, contract, delict/tort and public international law) He is also a lecturer in Muslim Law at Sri Lanka Law College.
Charges: “Inciting communal disharmony” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, “advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” under the ICCPR Act and “for conspiracy and abetment charges” under the Penal Code.
Health Concerns: Positive with Covid-19 in January 2021 despite being in a restricted and constricted area. He was vaccinated on August 10. Hizbullah tested positive right before he was to be presented in front of court, which activists said seemed to be a trend. He is now vaccinated as of August 10, 2021.
About Hejaaz Hizbullah
Hejaaz Hizbullah is a 41-year-old human rights lawyer who has been unlawfully detained by the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in Sri Lanka.
He earned his Master’s degree in the United Kingdom as a Chevening scholar, which is the UK’s international scholarships program. He had begun studying constitutional law at early stages of his career.
He is married to Maram Khalifa and together they have a daughter, but he has never been able to see her because she was born while he was in detention in November 2020.
Hizbullah wrote a letter for Eid this year to his wife that reads “I too miss Egypt and how free we are or how free I am. I don’t feel constrained by anything. I think (daughter’s name here) will be a good travel companion. I can see myself swimming with her in the Red Sea!! InshAllah.” For context, his wife Maram is from Egypt.
Alleged Crime and Imprisonment
Hizbullah was arrested on April 14, 2020 by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), but not officially charged until March 3, 2021. He was originally arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for alleged involvement in the 2019 Easter bombings. He was accused of aiding and abetting suicide bomber Inshaf Ahamed, but this accusation has been withdrawn. He was placed under detention on order of the President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa under section 9 PTA This allows a minister the permission and power to detain by order up to eighteen months if there is reasonable belief that the person is connected to an unlawful act.
Hizbullah has had case files removed, was detained over six months without charge, and had numerous laws violated against him. A person must be presented before a magistrate within 72 hours of being detained by the PTA if a detention order is not issued. Hizbullah did not receive an order until April 25, 2020, 11 days later. The order was renewed on October 14 and his case before the magistrate was pushed to February 18, 2021.
He was charged on March 3, 2021 with speech “inciting communal disharmony,” and “advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” under the ICCPR Act and “for conspiracy and abetment charges” under the Penal Code.
Since arrest, Hizbullah has been denied due process. He has been detained for an extended period of time without oversight or bail. In police custody, he was not allowed to have legal counsel and since his February indictment, has not been able to see his family.
As of August 2021, he has been detained for 16 months without any evidence. He is being locked up in a 6×3 foot cell.
His family believes that he was targeted because of his activism and human rights work. He has been openly critical of the government, especially when abuses towards religious and ethnic minorities have been increasing.
Influence and Recognition
Hejaaz Hizbullah’s case has gained international attention and also brought awareness to the cases of others unlawfully detained under the PTA such as 26-year-old poet and teacher Anhaf Jazeem.
In July 2021, 11 international human rights organizations called for the release of Hizbullah. They are Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Article 19; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Front Line Defenders; International Bar Association’s Human Rights Initiative; International Commission of Jurists; International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); International Working Group on Sri Lanka; and Sri Lanka Campaign for Truth and Justice.
The European Parliament’s June 10, 2021 Resolution on “Sri Lanka, in particular the arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act” specifically mentioned Hizbullah by name. In section ‘F’ it states “whereas the PTA has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of Muslims and minority groups in Sri Lanka, including Ahnaf Jazeem, a 26-year-old Muslim teacher and poet, and Hejaaz Hizbullah, a well-known lawyer for minority rights and the rule of law”.
The United Nations Core Group on Sri Lanka, consisting of Germany, Canada, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom has raised concerns at the 44th, 45th, and 47th sessions over the detention of Hejaaz.
In her June 21, 2021 opening speech at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet mentioned the PTA’s targeting of minorities. “I am concerned by further Government measures perceived as targeting Muslims, and by the harassment of Tamils,” she said, adding “Recent counter-terrorism regulations – which include the listing and/or prohibition of more than 300 Tamil and Muslim groups and individuals for alleged support of terrorism – will also not advance reconciliation.”
He has been recognized by Amnesty International as a “prisoner of conscience,” meaning those who have not called for violence or hatred, but detained for their identity or belief systems, such as religious or political.
Letters of Support and Articles on Hejaaz