Sri Lanka: Arrest of Muslim lawyer for Easter bombings “illegal and arbitrary”

By Kithsiri Wijesinghe

A prominent Muslim lawyer arrested by police for alleged involvement in the Easter Sunday bombings a year ago, has been widely condemned as illegal and arbitrary.

Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested alongside six others by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Tuesday (14) using anti-terror laws.

The latest arrests, which include the brother of a former minister and a customs officer comes in the wake of the UN voicing its concern about rising hate speech against Muslims and other ethnic or religious minorities during the Covid19 outbreak.

'Illegal and arbitrary'

Following the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president in November who was voted in on a hard-line Sinhala Buddhist mandate, the investigations on the Easter Sunday attack and many other high profile cases were handed over to a new team of officers.

Police said that the arrests came after investigations were “reopened with a fresh approach”.

“Information has come to light that the lawyer had associated himself with the bombers,” police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne told journalists in Colombo.

“In addition, it has been reported that he had been involved with the bombers as an office bearer in an organisation. Furthermore, certain affiliations with the planning of the bombing.”

Hejaaz Hisbulla’s family has denounced the arrest as illegal and arbitrary.

“Mr. Hizbullah is of the firm view that his arrest is illegal and arbitrary and has been done for collateral purposes, with the intention of stifling dissent,” said his family members in a statement on social media.

“To our knowledge a thorough search was done of his premises and belongings and there has been no material found to incriminate him in any manner. Mr. Hizbullah intends to fully co-operate with the investigators and believes that he will be able to clarify matters in respect of which his explanation is sought.”

BASL express concerns

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) says that the arrest had been based on events attended by Attorney-at-Law Hisbullah in a professional capacity.

“We have been informed that the arrest is based on certain functions attended to by Mr. Hisbullah in his professional capacity as a member of the Bar,” said BASL Chair Kalinga Indatissa, PC in a letter to the police chief.

“Mr. Hizbullah has over the years undertaken professional work on behalf of a wide range of clients including the challenge to the dissolution of Parliament, the Golden Key cases as well as other cases relating to fundamental rights violations. In the course of his professional work and as a citizen he has on numerous occasions challenged and called into question decisions of people in political authority,” said Hejaaz Hisbullah’s family members.

Ex Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, whose brother Riyadh Bathiudeen was also arrested on the 14th, condemned the arrests as politically motivated.

Sri Lanka saw a gradual rise in anti-Muslim hatred during the deadly virus outbreak where government officials including the head of the National Operation Centre, Army Commander Shavendra Silva identifying victims as Muslims.

“Please provide information on the steps taken to tackle potential rise in hate speech against Muslims and other ethnic or religious minorities in Sri Lanka, including by protecting the identity of the COVID-19 patients or deceased,” said a group of UN special rapporteurs in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa a week ago.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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