It has been a year since Ahnaf Jazeem, a poet and a teacher, has been detained without charge.
Jazeem was apprehended on 16 May 2020 by the CID on terrorism charges, on the basis that a book of poetry he had authored in Tamil contained extremist messages for the alleged promotion of extremism through his poetry book 'Navarasam'.
Human rights groups have pointed out the ongoing detention has resulted in Jazeem being denied fair trial, due process, and unrestricted access to legal counsel.
A panel discussion centered on his arrest under the theme 'Ahnaf, Freedom of Speech and Human Rights' will be live streamed through Zoom today (16) from 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm.
Panelists include social activist Ven. Thanne Gnanananda Thero, Attorney-at-Law Kaushalya Ariyaratne. Attorney-at-Law Mas Yusuf and journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara.
The Young Journalists' Association of Sri Lanka invites the public to join the discussion through the link found below.
Meeting ID : 752 0863 3631
Passcode : kHr1i7
For any inquiries, contact Chamara Sampath (President) on 0712 419 838 and Indunil Usgoda Arachchi (Secretary) on 0770 658 285.
13 rights groups renew call for his release
Meanwhile, 13 human rights organisations have expressed grave concern over the ongoing detention of Ahnaf Jazeem.
In a joint statement, PEN International, Amnesty International, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, Journalists for Democracy, International Truth and Justice Project, Australian Centre for International Justice, Human Rights Watch, Article 19, FREEMUSE, Centre for Justice and Accountability, IMADR, People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) and The International Working Group on Sri Lanka have urged Sri Lankan authorities to immediately release Ahnaf Jazeem, or promptly charge him with internationally recognizable criminal offences and try him in accordance with international fair trial standards.
Highlighting that his arrest comes against a backdrop of increased marginalisation and discrimination targeting Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, the rights groups noted that the book is currently listed in Sri Lanka’s national library, having never been banned although the authorities decided to allegedly detain Ahnaf Jazeem for its content.
"Sri Lankan authorities have continued to argue that the contents of Navarasam promote extremism. However, this has been flatly rejected by the author and his legal representative, Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekera, who views Ahnaf Jazeem’s detention as being ‘directed at entrenching anti-Muslim racism’. Macbool Alim Mohammed Nuhman, a renowned Tamil language professor has also contested the authorities’ interpretation of Ahnaf Jazeem’s poetry, stating that there are several poems against extremism, violence, and war in this collection," the statement said.
Despite Ahnaf being held in detention for a year, the authorities have failed to bring forth any credible evidence that substantiates their allegations against him, they noted.
"In the event the authorities do possess credible and admissible evidence that Jazeem has committed an internationally recognised crime, they must promptly charge him, assuring him due process and the right to a fair trial in accordance with international standards so that he has an opportunity to prove his innocence," the rights groups said.
They also called on the government to release him immediately in the absence of any such evidence and to repeal the deeply flawed Prevention of Terrorsim Act (PTA), which has facilitated human rights violations especially of Sri Lankan minorities.