Three fundamental rights petitions filed in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka tell a sordid tale of illegal arrest, coercion and intimidation of minors by the Criminal Investigation Department as it sets about its task of falsely implicating prominent attorney Hejaaz Hizbullah in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.
The children were forcibly taken to the CID without guardians present, threatened and recorded on video and forced to place their signatures on documents they could not read, the petitioners told the top court. Based on the petitions, the CID operation was tailored to illegally obtain testimony from the three minors that teachers at their school were preaching violence and extremism and providing weapons training to students – facts that all three boys have denied in their filings in the Supreme Court.
Mohammed Rifkan (16 years), Mohamed Risvi Mohamed Athif (13 years) and Mohamed Umar (11 years) filed fundamental rights petitions in the Supreme Court on Monday, 11th May 2020 through their parents and guardians. The three minors have asked the court to issue interim orders directing the IGP and the CID to immediately produce the arrest notes and other documents related to the detention of the boys to the Supreme Court, produce the video recording of the petitioner for perusal by the court and produce the purported paper on which the boys were forced to place their signatures.
All three petitioners hail from impoverished families in the Colombo 15 region and school drop outs, who had received scholarships to study at the Al-Zuhriya Arabic College in Karaithiwu.
According to the Petition filed before the Supreme Court the scholarships were intended to provide education for destitute children who required rehabilitation. All three petitioners also confess to having being involved in illegal activity involving narcotics as a result of socio-economic hardships. The college taught them Islam, Maths, English and Computer Science, the petitions state.
The school was funded through the Save the Pearls charity, of which Hejaaz Hizbullah was a trustee. The court filings by the three students at the school reveal the extent to which the CID is willing to go in order to manufacture a case against the Muslim lawyer being illegally detained since April 14, 2020.
The illegal interrogation and detention of the three students of Al-Zuhariya was intended to manufacture evidence that implicated the charity associated with Hizbullah was funding Islamic schools that preached extremism and even provided students with weapons training. The Government is focused on keeping the Easter Sunday bombings at the top of people’s minds, after the strategy proved highly successful in the 2019 presidential poll. The CID’s dubious line of investigation aims to stoke fears of future terror attacks and keep anti-Muslim sentiment at fever-pitch as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa heads into parliamentary elections with his eye on a two thirds majority.
The petitions tell the horror story of how CID officials visited their homes between 24-30 April. The purported CID officials showed the children photographs and questioned if the persons in the pictures had visited or preached at the school. When the boys said they could not identify the persons in the picture, they were induced to admit that the persons in the photographs were coming to the school to preach “extreme and violent ideas”. The CID officials also asked the students whether they received weapons training at the school which was denied. The CID visited the boys for the second time and took them in for questioning without their parents or guardians present. All three boys are legally minors.
According to the petition, there was no arrest note or any other details about where the boys were being taken provided to the guardians. In their court filing the boys said they did not know the location to which they were transported but had no option but to obey the orders since their movements were restricted.
The story then becomes even more frightening.
According to the boys’ petition, they were each taken into a room and a video recorder was turned on. Once again, the “CID” questioned the children about the same facts they were interrogated about at their residence, by showing them photographs. Once again the boys were all asked, this time as they were being recorded, whether they were provided weapons training. All three students denied this. According to one of the petitioners, the video camera had been turned off at some point during the questioning and thereafter threatened by those claiming to be CID officers.
“The Petitioner was told that his colleagues had admitted to the preaching of persons shown in the photographs and/or of having received training in weapons, The Petitioner denied any knowledge of such persons who were actually not teaching to him, Thereafter the Petitioner was ordered to sign on a paper, The Petitioner was not informed and or explained of the contents and/or the reason for obtaining his signature, The Petitioner was so questioned for 8-10 hours . He was thereafter dropped at his residence. Likewise the Petitioner was again taking back to the same place and questioned on or around 28th of April,” one of the petitions before the Court described.
The students immediately informed their parents of what had transpired with the CID officials, and through lawyers were instructed to lodge a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
The boys told the court that they had legitimate reason to fear for their lives, and the liberty of their families. The petitioners told court the conduct of the CID constituted an infringement of their fundamental rights of freedom from torture and cruel and degrading punishment, equality before the law and equal protection of the law, freedom from arrest except according to procedure established by law and the right of being informed of the reason for arrest etc. (By Chinthika De Silva)