Sri Lanka: Muslim lawyer detained in violation of national and international law

Sri Lanka has been warned that it is violating international and local legal standards by detaining a Muslim lawyer accused of collusion in the deadly Easter bombings.

Human Rights Lawyer Hejaaz Hisbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police (CID) on April 14, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and has since been kept in detention. No reasons have been provided at the time of the arrest. Later police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne told journalists that he was arrested as a result of the evidence found against him during “fresh investigations” into the 2019 Easter Sunday attack.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have urged Sri Lankan authorities to specify the charges against him, grant him full and immediate access to a lawyer and investigate the circumstances of his arrest for potential rights violations.

Violating terror laws

According to ICJ no remand or detention orders authorising his continued detention have been served to the lawyer even after the lapse of 72 hours, as required by Sri Lanka’s anti-terror legislation. Moreover Hisbullah had been only granted limited access to legal counsel on April 15 and 16, under the supervision of a CID official, who had insisted that the conversation be in Sinhala which is in breach of attorney-client privilege as is stated by the ICJ. Legal access has been denied since April 16, 2020.

“No one questions the government’s need and obligation to investigate the horrendous Easter Sunday attacks, but these investigations must be conducted in a way that is consistent with international law and the Sri Lankan Constitution,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director. “Not serving Hizbullah a remand order as required by law, and denying him full and confidential access to legal counsel is unacceptable and in violation of international standards on the right to liberty.”

According to a Habeas Corpus application filed by Hisbullah’s father seeking his release a group of five apparently from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) impersonating officials of the Ministry of Health entered his home. After placing him in handcuffs, they interrogated him. They demanded access to two of his case files, recorded a statement and arrested him.

“By allowing warrantless entry, search of premises and the arrest of persons, the Prevention of Terrorism Act violates basic due process guarantees under international law,” added Rawski. “This legal provision is one of many problematic provisions of the PTA. The ICJ reiterates it calls for the PTA to be repealed, and replaced with a law that conforms with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations.”

The CID officers accessing documents belonging to attorney-at-law Hisbullah have been brought to the attention of the Chief Justice due to the severe impingement of attorney-client confidentiality, as well as the lawyer’s right to practice his profession freely.

“We request the Hon. Chief Justice to take note of the apparent interference by law enforcement authorities in the right of an officer of the Supreme Court to practice his profession freely and make necessary interventions to ensure attorneys-at-law are able to perform their functions without fear” said a statement signed by 117 individuals and 6 organisations.

It calls upon the authorities to respect Hejaaz Hisbullah’s due process rights; in particular to grant immediate access to his lawyers to receive instructions, provide reasons for his arrest as well as evidence that the arrest is not arbitrary as well as produce him before a magistrate immediately.

Spiteful allegations in Sinhala media

In the meantime, the human rights council of Sri Lanka has been alerted to unsubstantiated allegations published by mainstream Sinhala weekly’s linking the brother of an opposition Muslim politician to the suspected mastermind of the Easter Sunday Bombings.

Businessman Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of ex minister Rishad Badiudeen, was arrested on the same day as Hejaaz Hisbullah.

Two Sinhala Sunday newspapers ‘Aruna’ and ‘Lankadeepa’ had published articles accusing the businessman, of being directly associated with Zahran Hashim.

The article is “malignant and inflammatory and was likely to have been written with ill-will” wife of Riyaj Bathiudeen has told Dr. Deepika Udagama, head of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission.
“In particular, I wish to highlight that the purported association between the mastermind of the Easter Attacks, Zahran Hashim and my husband are completely false, unsubstantiated and spiteful,” says Mohamed Nisar Fathima Israth in her letter to the HRCSL chairperson.

“The Sunday newspapers had quoted in their articles that Riyaj Bathiudeen was arrested by the security forces of the Northern Province in respect of the Easter Sunday attacks and was thereafter freed. This is a blatant lie and a distortion of facts, as my husband who is currently in remand, was never arrested nor interrogated prior to his present predicament in respect of this case.”

Police in Sri Lanka have announced nearly 200 arrests for their alleged involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. As of yet, nobody has been charged.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.