Over a dozen human rights groups demand release of detained poet Ahnaf Jazeem

International pressure is mounting on Sri Lanka to release Ahnaf Jazeem - a teacher and poet who has been kept in detention for a year under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for publishing a poetry book on charges what human rights groups call ‘unsustainable’.

Now, JDS along with a dozen rights groups have issued a joint call for his immediate release or filing charges against him and conduct a free and fair trial in accordance with international standards.

Expressing strong resentment over his detention JDS along with PEN International, Amnesty International, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice, International Truth & 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 called upon the Sri Lankan government to “immediately repeal the deeply flawed PTA which has facilitated human rights violations especially of Sri Lankan minorities”.

'Extremist ideology'

Ahnaf Jazeem’s Tamil poetry anthology titled ‘Navarasam’, is listed in Sri Lanka’s National library and has never been banned. Sri Lankan authorities claim the anthology exposed his students to ‘extremist’ content with the intention of turning them into followers of ‘extremist ideology’. Its author and his legal representative flatly reject these claims.

Eminent Tamil scholars like Prof. Macbool Ali Mohammed Nuhman have contested the authority’s interpretation of his poetry, authenticating that ‘there are several poems against extremism, violence and war in this collection’.

JDS and others in their joint statement say, ‘his arrest comes against a backdrop of increased marginalisation and discrimination targeting Sri Lanka’s Muslim Community’.


Incarcerated under inhuman conditions by the Counter Terrorism Investigation Division (CTID), the poet has been coerced to make ‘false statement’ while interrogation and has been forced to sign document written in a language, he does not understand says in attorney Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekara.

The Sri Lankan authorities reportedly found copies of the book ‘Navarasam’ at a school that was being investigated for what investigating agencies say for its alleged links to the East Sunday terror attacks.

Conversations recorded

The signatories to the joint statement quoting his lawyer say the cruel and degrading treatment of Ahnaf Jazeem in detention has contributed to his deteriorated health. His attorney views Ahnaf Jazeem’s detention as being ‘directed at entrenching anti-Muslim racism’.

They point out that Jazeem was denied access to legal representation for close to ten months and even when such an access was provided, privileged conversations between the lawyer-client were ‘recorded’ by the authorities. His family were given access to meet him only after five months.

Sri Lankan terror police are yet to bring forth any evidence to substantiate their allegations against Ahnaf Jazeem. The signatories to the joint statement have demanded that he should be provided a fair trial in accordance with international standards so that he has an opportunity to prove his innocence.

Sri Lanka’s draconian PTA provides authorities with sweeping powers to arbitrarily detain individuals without any charges for up to 18 months without charge or trial. The rights groups point out ‘use of torture and other forms of ill treatment to obtain forced confessions is a widespread practice used by the notorious CTID against detainees and say the PTA has been used against Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious minority communities.

Despite repeated calls from the UN and other human rights organisations to repeal the legislation successive Sri Lankan regimes have remained adamant in retaining them and continue to use the PTA against some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.