The arrests of Muslim citizens soon after the Government of Sri Lanka adopted a Covid-19 funeral policy biased against Muslims, raise concerns about the safety of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Saturday referring to the arrest of a prominent lawyer and Government critic.
HRW said that the Government should uphold due process rights and ensure that recently detained Muslim figures have proper access to lawyers, referring to the arrest of attorney Hejaaz Hizbullah and others.
“Sri Lankan authorities have a responsibility to prosecute those responsible for the horrific Easter Sunday attacks last year, but the arrests should be lawful, and not used to vilify an entire community,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “The recent arrests of well-known Muslims, combined with biased government actions and rising anti-Muslim hate speech, raise concerns for the broader safety of the Muslim community.”
“On April 14, 2020, the authorities arrested Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent lawyer, apparently under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. He was one of six people, including the brother of a former minister and a customs official, whom police recently detained for their alleged involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings by an Islamist group, which killed over 250 people. Ramzy Razeek, a retired government official who has a following on Facebook, was arrested on April 9 after decrying religious discrimination in a social media post,” the HRW statement noted.
HRW added that concerns for the safety and security of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community after the Easter bombings have increased since the outbreak of Covid-19. “On April 12, Sri Lankan Muslim organizations wrote to the inspector general of police reporting an upsurge in hate speech, including calls to boycott Muslim businesses and accusations that Muslims are deliberately spreading Covid-19. Senior government figures have made public remarks associating the Muslim community with Covid-19 infection,” the statement said.
The HRW statement pointed out that the police allege that Hizbullah was arrested in connection with the Easter bombings.
“Although he is believed to be detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, no detention order has been served, and he was not taken before a magistrate within the required 72 hours. He has been denied regular access to a lawyer, except for brief meetings in the presence of the police on April 15 and 16,” the statement said.
Read full statement by Human Rights Watch here