The complaint lodged with the mobile office of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) in Mannar by the family of the poet Mannaramudhu Ahnaf Jazeem, 25, who is presently detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) over allegedly promoting Islamist extremism and terrorism, has been transferred for inquiries to the HRCSL head office in Colombo.
Ahnaf’s family previously informed that they will be filing a fundamental rights (FR) petition before the Supreme Court in this regard, and at present, the petition is being drafted.
According to print and web media reports, Ahnaf had been arrested on 16 May 2020 while a detention order valid for three months had been issued under the hand of the President, followed by a second detention order issued, and the same being extended subsequently.
Speaking to the writer, Afham R.M. Razmin, Ahnaf’s elder sibling, speaking also on behalf of his parents who are involved in farming and agriculture, and are based in Pandaraweli, Silawathura, Mannar, explained that the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) had initially taken him to Vavuniya for questioning and subsequently brought him back home, asked him to gather some clothes and collected all his books, and then taken him away. He is presently in the custody of the Terrorism Investigation Division.
According to Razmin, the reason for Ahnaf’s arrest is that copies of a poetry collection titled ‘Navarasam’ authored and published in Tamil by Ahnaf in July 2017, which the investigating law enforcement authorities allege promotes Islamist extremism and terrorism, had been found on the premises of a school (named School of Excellence) building in Madurankuliya, Puttalam, belonging to the Save the Pearl organization, the latter which is linked to Attorney-at-Law (AAL) Hejaaz Hizbullah who is also detained at present in connection with the investigations into the Easter Sunday bombings on 21 April 2019. Ahnaf along with other teachers had been conducting after school tuition classes for village children at the said building situated in the property owned by Save the Pearl. The school in question is being investigated by the CID for allegedly promoting Islamist extremism and alleged links to the Easter Sunday terror attacks.
The first mention of Ahnaf’s Navarasam came up when the case connected to Hizbullah was taken up in September 2020. Ahnaf’s case is being heard at the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court. Following a Court order, a particular literal, word-for-word sworn translation of the book had been evaluated by child psychiatrists at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children on the basis that it had been circulated among minors, and a print media news report quoted the said report by the child psychiatrists as declaring that some of the poems in the book “incites violence, arouses sexual feelings, promotes suicide, glorifies death, talks of perceived injustice against Muslims across the world, and incites hatred against the perpetrators of violence” and therefore deemed harmful to children.
A Court hearing scheduled for 8 December was postponed to March 2021 over COVID-19 related concerns.
Razmin added that they will be filing a FR petition in this regard. Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression including publication.
The family has retained the services of AAL Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekera, who is also the President of the Action Committee for the Defence of the Freedom of Art and Expression, who added that, in addition, they will also be seeking bail for Ahnaf.
Jayasekera, speaking to the writer, claimed: “This is completely anti-democratic and is a death-blow to the freedom of expression and art. This is a continuation of attacks on artists and writers who are critical of the society and the political system. Ahnaf is the latest victim in a series of such arbitrary arrests and prosecutions involving a short story writer, a film director, a commentator and social media activist, a lawyer and journalists under this Government. The Police or the prosecutors cannot understand literature and arbitrarily arrest writers to impose fear and to subjugate critical thinking. These arrests and the whole campaign is directed at entrenching anti-Muslim racism to divide the working people and masses along racial lines. All those who value democratic rights and the freedom of art should protest against this arrest and detention and demand the immediate and unconditional release of Ahnaf”.
Meanwhile, in opposition to the arbitrary arrest and detention of Ahnaf, the Sri Lanka Young Journalists Association has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission seeking the latter’s intervention. (By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody)