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 The prolonged detention of human rights lawyers Hejaaz Hizbullah, who is being held without being produced before the Court for months, is arbitrary and unlawful, the Law
Association for Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA) said.

 

They called on the Sri Lankan Government to release Hizbullah, and to ensure that it meets its obligation to protect his work as a lawyer and his right against arbitrary detention. 
 
A prominent Muslim lawyer and human rights defender in Sri Lanka, Hizbullah was arrested on 14 April 2020, under the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), on charges relating to his conversations  with a contact person for a former client, and vague allegations of ‘indoctrination’, relating to a charity he was engaged with.


"LAWASIA is concerned that Mr Hizbullah’s arbitrary arrest and continued detention may be a form of state reprisal for his legal practice and advocacy for the constitutional rights of the Sri Lankan Muslim minority community. Mr Hizbullah, a senior lawyer and human rights defender, has, over his 15 years of practice, taken on several important cases on behalf of victims of abuse of state power, human rights  abuses  and  hate  speech,  including  a  challenge  to  the  dissolution  of  Parliament  in  2018.  His interventions have been pivotal in upholding the rule of law, constitutional rights and human rights in Sri Lanka," the law association said in a statement.

Calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure due process is followed and his substantive rights are protected, they noted Sri Lanka's human rights obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (Sri Lanka acceded to the ICCPR on 11 June 1980), under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

President of LAWASIA, Chunghwan Choi, expressed concern on the use of Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act observing that it "exceeds the principle of legality, under which anti-terror laws must be applied in carefully circumscribed contexts, and for specific charges." 

"We are concerned that the Sri Lankan Government’s use of its anti-terror law has the effect of criminalising peaceful and legitimate human rights work and could cause a chilling effect on those involved in peaceful dissent and human rights advocacy. This is inimical to the rule of law and contrary to the Human Rights Council’s interpretation that anti-terror legislation should not be used to deter legitimate human rights work," he said.

While noting that Hizbullah should have unfettered access to legal counsel, they also said that he is yet to be formally charged. "There appears to be a lack of due process in relation to the circumstances of his arrest and detention. We understand that during his arrest, key due process provisions within the Prevention of Terrorism Act were not complied with, and several of his case files were seized, which, if true, amounts to a severe impingement of attorney-client privilege. Throughout his detention, it appears that Mr Hizbullah has been denied meaningful access to his lawyers and family," LAWASIA said.

Without further evidence, LAWASIA pointed out that there is no justification for keeping Hizbullah in detention for such a long period, particularly during a pandemic.

"LAWASIA calls on the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that he is released. The Sri Lankan Government must ensure that it respects the Rule of Law, and not Rule by Law," they added.