21 October, 2020

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Hejaaz Hizbullah’s Case: A ‘King Kekille’ Style Witch-Hunt Calling For Public Activism!

By Mohamed Harees –

Lukman Harees

The dubious circumstances surrounding the arbitrary arrest of Hejaaz Hizbullah, a former State Counsel and a prominent Sri Lankan lawyer, on 14 April 2020 by the CID for ‘alleged involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist attacks’ under Sri Lanka’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), has been a shocker; not just to the family and friends; rather to the legal fraternity as well. He is still being reportedly detained without charges or access to a lawyer for well over a month. No reasons were provided to him or his family at the time of the arrest. While acknowledging the need to conduct thorough investigations into any alleged offence, in this instance, prima facie it appears that the detainee has been denied due process rights. 

With the BASL, International Bar Association. International Commission of Jurists as well as Amnesty International, among many bodies, expressing their serious concern over this arbitrary detention, what is clearly is at stake, is the due process of the law, smacking  of a rule of law crisis, on top of a impunity crisis, which have been assuming dangerous proportions for quite some-time in Sri Lanka. This palpably ‘State sanctioned’ onslaught on the due process, impinges of the constitutional guarantees that prevents governments from impacting citizens in an abusive way. In the case of Hejaaz, the most troubling aspect is the blatant disregard of the due process rights of an officer of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and what appears to be his right to practice his profession freely, as it creates fear they will be penalized for meeting with persons who are alleged to have committed offences as part of performing their duties as attorneys-at-law. Besides, if he was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, he should have been produced before a magistrate before the conclusion of seventy-two hours or a detention order should have been issued. In his case, neither appears to have taken place, which could render the arrest and detention illegal, and hence constitute a violation of Article 13 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. In this context, Hejaaz’s arbitrary arrest and detention bear all the tell-tale marks of Sri Lanka fast becoming a ‘police state’- a totalitarian state controlled by a political police force that secretly supervises the citizens’ activities.

Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah

Whilst the eyes of the world and the nation are diverted to addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a shame that the government authorities are patently violating the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a state party, including his right appear before a court to challenge the lawfulness of his detention. Yes! Prominent legal bodies and Human Rights watchdogs have spoken out against this injustice, although there are questions in some quarters about the adequacy of BASL’s role in defending the ability to function as lawyers, without obstruction, fear or favour and in acting as a voice for justice, rule of law and democracy. Yes! There are also concerns expressed from within about the Muslim community’s callous and disgusting indifference to this case, when Hejaaz has been a strong community activist defending its interests against the formidable hate lobby which took shape in Post-war Sri Lanka! 

However, Hejaaz’s issue is neither a Muslim issue nor an issue which only the legal fraternity should be concerned about. This case has assumed public importance for the mere fact that its implications have spilled over to the public domain and become a subject of the public discourse. Fundamental rights, personal liberty assured under the Constitution have been denied. This case also reflects that the public space for expressing dissent is shrinking. There were vile and vicious media campaign carried out against him with the intention of prejudicing public opinion. The family say that they believe that this campaign is being carried out with the support those involved in the investigation in order to justify their unlawful activities in arresting and detaining him. There were attempts to threaten children to testify falsely against Hejaaz too. There were media reports revealing the contents of confidential statements made by the child witnesses before a magistrate. These are serious violations of human rights and erosions of public confidence in the justice dispensation system.  In this context, this contentious issue cannot be left to the family or the legal profession to sort matters out. It has thus become an issue which should be the immediate concern of every public spirited citizen, to stem the rot within the justice system, with ‘the level of impunity, as well as a lack of public accountability and due process stooping to a ‘new low level’.  

In a classic style of ‘King Kekille type of meting out justice, the hasty arrests made, an year after the Easter Sunday attacks, smacks of a well –planned move to show ‘results’ to a predominantly Sinhala Buddhist audience with the parliamentary elections round the corner, rather than a result of a thorough Police investigation. If the revelations of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) proceedings is anything to go by, the investigation cleverly left out the main culprits arising from the then-government’s culpability (Sirisena-Ranil and their law enforcement arm) in ignoring intelligence warnings and the ‘masterminds’ who reaped the harvest out of the Post-Easter demonization of the Muslim community which led them to achieve their narrow political ends. The revelations of many at the PSC proceedings, including the evidence of DIG Nalaka Silva, and the Head of  Intelligence furnished many pointers and clear proof of their culpability. Still those culprits are at large with Sirisena not being even questioned; but allowed to be housed within a luxurious cocoon after retirement. How the Post-war rulers played games with the rule of law and their power to pardon criminals are public knowledge!  

Besides, there are international angle too to this case. According to Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” Article 14 entitles anyone charged of a criminal offence “to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing”. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that, “Governments shall further ensure that all persons arrested or detained, with or without criminal charge, shall have prompt access to a lawyer, and in any case not later than forty-eight hours from the time of arrest or detention.”

In this light, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) urged, ‘the Government of Sri Lanka need to fall in line with international obligations – for example, to respect the independence of lawyers and their right to exercise freedom of expression, as part of their vital role holding the government to account. Incidentally, this year marks 30 years since the adoption of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the IBA Standards for the Independence of the Legal Profession, which uphold the rights of lawyers to be able to carry out their professional responsibilities. Part of the latter instrument is the ‘protection of the lawyer’s files and documents from seizure or inspection’ and the defence of the rights of lawyers ‘to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law and the administration of justice.’ In Hejaaz’ case, these principles were grossly violated. 

In fact, Hejaaz case is not a unique one for IBAHRU as it has been showing its’ ongoing concerns regarding the rule of law, the rights of lawyers and the Prevention of Terrorist Act in Sri Lanka, which allows for warrantless entry, the search of premises and arrest of persons. Following a rapid-response fact-finding mission in 2013, the IBAHRI published a report highlighting the country’s ‘longstanding official hostility’ towards members of the legal profession who express legitimate criticism of the government, the right to which is protected by the Constitution. 

Putting matters in perspective, Hejaaz has also been actively involved in a number of high-profile cases, including a challenge to the dissolution of parliament in 2018 in Supreme courts, which saw the ouster of the short lived Mahinda Rajapakse government, thereby obviously making him unpopular with the Rajapaksas. He also appeared for Dr Shafi who was demonised by a rogue monks-led campaign and through Divaina, in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks that he has been responsible for sterilization of more than 8000 Sinhala women. These charges were subsequently proved to be unfounded in CID investigations. In this backdrop, his arrest also comes at a time of rising discrimination against the Muslim community and political dissidents even during the Covid-19 pandemic with officials and media openly identifying Muslim victims as responsible for spreading the disease and government denying burial rights to the Muslims, in contravention of WHO guidelines, on the ludicrous basis that Covid bodies can be used as biological weapons. 

Witch hunt is not novel in Sri Lanka. Both the previous Yahapalana governments as well as Rajapakse governments have been seen to be engaging in tit-for tat witch hunts of prominent political opponents and social activists. In bad taste, a group of 216 lawyers loyal to the Government, called upon the BASL not to intervene in this case, alleging that he was connected to the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday bombings and that the arrest was a result of matters completely outside his scope of work as an attorney. Police spokesman also said “This lawyer had connections with 2 of the bombers, he had also been part of an organisation these bombers were part of, even though not a shred of evidence has been put forward by police to any court in proof of this allegation. As alleged by Hejaaz’ family, this arrest is prima facie illegal and arbitrary and appear to have been done for collateral purposes, with the intention of stifling dissent. 

It is important to note rights activists, journalists facing surveillance and threats, with security agencies shutting down civic space in Sri Lanka.  According to an extremely scary Report (March 2020) by Human Rights Watch, Sri Lankan security agencies are stepping up surveillance, harassment, and threats against human rights activists and journalists, and since November 2019, when the new government came into office, there has been a rapid closing of civic space and freedom of expression. Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW South Asia director said “The activities of the government’s security apparatus are evident in some violent attacks and public death threats against activists and journalists, but also in equally dangerous actions happening out of sight. Some of these calls have apparently been to tell activists that they are being watched at that moment’. Sri Lankans are seeing their civil and political rights being stripped away and replaced by authoritarian structures at a rapid pace”.

In his book, Sri Lanka: Impunity, Criminal Justice & Human Rights (Hong Kong: Asian Human Rights Commission, 2010); Basil Fernando describes the current situation in Sri Lanka as one of “abysmal lawlessness.” Use of the word “abysmal” is explained as follows: Lawlessness of this sort differs from simple illegality or disregard for law, which to differing degrees can happen anywhere. Lawlessness is abysmal when law ceases to be a reference. What would normally be crime ceases to be thought of as crime and lawlessness becomes routine. Under circumstances of abysmal lawlessness, according to Fernando, the concept of legal redress – which is vital to the proper functioning of any legal system – has in fact been completely decoupled from whatever may be called law. In Sri Lanka, the primary cause of this decoupling has been the fundamental failure of the institutions ostensibly designed to implement and enforce legal redress. In his book, Fernando identifies six themes which, in his opinion, lie at the heart of the current situation of abysmal lawlessness in Sri Lanka: the lost meaning of legality; the predominance of the security apparatus; the disappearance of truth through propaganda; the extraordinary concentration of power in the hands of the executive president (termed ‘the superman controller’); destroyed public institutions; and the zero status of citizens.

Sri Lanka’s justice and accountability institutions have been eroded to the point that they have become dysfunctional sham institutions which are little more than hollow impressions that merely approximate some of the external characteristics of genuine functional institutions. Sri Lanka does not lack for a constitution, a court system, and other formal mechanisms for legal redress; however, none of these institutions have any more depth or substance to them than a Hollywood film set. As the country’s public institutions have fallen to zero, so has the status of its citizens. Where there are no effective public institutions there can be no individual rights. The rights that citizens enjoy under the statute books have no actual relevance, because there is no effective mechanism to guarantee and protect them. Thus, insofar as the nation’s public institutions have vanished, so has any conception of Sri Lankans’ individual rights. As Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena points out ‘At each historical juncture, the framers of Sri Lanka’s post-independence constitutional documents have suffered from a deep-rooted reluctance to give practical effect to the rule of law and the idea of justice; From the core political objective to subvert the rule of law sprang a rabidly intolerant response to legitimate dissent’. Whether Hejaaz’s case will thus  wake up and stir the (lost) dynamism of public activism in Sri Lanka at this challenging time of history, is anyone’s guess! But, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox said “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” 

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Latest comments

  • 8
    13

    What do you suggest…..?
    Are you suggesting that we have “Black Sites” or “Floating Prisons” like USA.
    .
    Fighting terrorism is difficult.
    Terrorists are being protected by the same values they are fighting to destroy.

    • 14
      3

      S. C. Passqual

      “Terrorists are being protected by the same values they are fighting to destroy.”

      Will you now please stop imitating the west, recycling their quotes without even attempting to grasp the in depth meaning and obligation of it?

      • 5
        8

        Mr. Native Vedda,
        .
        Can you tell me a single reason why should I…..
        .
        Is CT only for Tamil idiots who tells lies about the government..?
        .
        Have you ever seen a comment by me with a lie…..?
        .
        Have you ever seen a person disputing or correcting a comment by me.
        .
        I know it’s hard to grasp the truth and you wants me to stop.
        .
        Dream on. It’s free.

    • 7
      5

      Fighting terrorist is difficult. That is known to anyone with some sanity. But politicial masturbations of some vicious politiicans of our nature is equally not an easy task. They take innocient people as thei rhuman shields. That is not overlooked in srilnaka in todays politics.

      So as fighting criminals and their slaves are also not easy. Best example is form today s politics in Srilanka. These both that are in leadership are high criminals according to at least 50% of the population.

      However, criminals in general make every effort to pain their image in favour of them.
      :
      In srilanka as a country filled with various kind of mafia businesses make it easy Rajaakshes cirminals to manipulate the masses as no other places sofar.
      :
      In today s politics, GOvt has been unable to do the job by their own, that is why the leadership has passed the ball on to tri-forces. It is a shame for a nation whose democracy is known as one of the oldest.
      .

    • 1
      3

      See what athana methana natana rathana says today.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NyGFMZCQCs

    • 4
      3

      Dealing with racist trolls is difficult too. Do explain to the commenters here (with credible links) what charges of terrorism has Hejaaz Hizbollah been arrested for, and do give us proof that he is a terrorist, because the judicial committees here and abroad are all criticizing this warrantless racist arrest.
      “Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent Sri Lankan lawyer, was arrested on 14 April 2020 and has since been detained without charge or access to a lawyer. His family believes he has been targeted for his work, including for the rights of Muslim minorities in the country. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has said that Hejaaz’s arrest is based on work done in his professional capacity as a lawyer. Media reports suggest he could be charged under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
      AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

    • 7
      2

      Sinkala Pasquali

      “Black Sites” or “Floating Prisons” like USA.

      *** This is frankly CRAP. Doesnt have any meaning in the Sri Lankan context. So coming from an illiteate who admitted yesterday that he can expalin but not in detail for lack of knowledge.
      Imagine if you are a teracher teaching kids the following “Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
      I take it that you will tell them the above is all I know but I cant tell you what you do with the Wool” . May be hang yourself.

      Man you are a Genuis.

      Fighting terrorism is difficult.
      Terrorists are being protected by the same values they are fighting to destroy.

      *** Fighting State Terrorism which Gotha has unleashed is very dfiificult.

      Terrorists are being protected by the same values they are fighting to destroy.

      You have got it spot on

      *** Especially which is supported by the Army ( Shavendra ) Navy the Airforce and the CIA and the Ctooked Judges who are trying to help Gotha undrmine RULE LAW.
      .

  • 18
    13

    Lies, lies and more lies.by Muslim apologists.
    /
    Harees writes, “The dubious circumstances surrounding the arbitrary arrest of Hejaaz Hizbullah,”
    Truth: the circumstances of this man’s arrest is not dubious at all. He has been found to lead a Madrasa linked to terrorists, occupied a building bought by terrorists and kept Rs 12 million for terrorists for two years. Arrest is not arbitrary for these terrorism related charges.
    /
    Next he blames the Prevention of Terrorism Act. There is nothing wrong with the PTA. Its purpose is to prevent terrorism, and it is doing that job. This alleged terrorist is detained legally under the PTA and he has access to lawyers. Let him face the music in due course.
    /
    In saying this alleged criminal “has been a strong community activist defending its interests”, you are saying that the entire Muslim community (if you can call it that!) approves and subscribes to terrorism.
    /
    Reasonable people of Sri Lanka has known that for a long time!
    /

    • 3
      2

      Like my previous response to the other racist troll, I ask you to give us credible links to what you have accused him of. Are you simply spewing Bhakt troll talking points,? If not you can surely support your comment with credible links showing he has been arrested for the specific crimesn you have mentioned. We will wait for your response (with the links). You cannot accuse anyone of crimes and not back it up with credible sources now can you?

      Luckily commenters here are intelligent enough to recognize a racist troll spewing lies and showing hate, and will believe credible human rights organizations over them:

      “The police allege that Hizbullah was arrested in connection with the Easter bombings. He has been held in apparent violation of basic due process rights. 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 Bar Association of Sri Lanka and human rights advocates have raised concerns over the case.”
      HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

      • 7
        5

        Racist troll nd Bhakt trolls seem to be the latest Hamba abuse the Muslim apologists throw at any patriot who oppose their conspiratorial and subversive behaviour.
        /
        I can tell you, I am nothing of the kind you are referring to (whatever the fruck they are) and I am just a Sri Lankan patriot. So take it carefully under your ‘kufi’.and on top your thick skull./
        /
        The references to Hizbullah’s money laundering for the coward Saharan was in Sri Lanka media, especially yhe Island and Divaina group news paper last week.
        /
        You obviously didn’t read them because you already knew this terrorist’s participation in the Easter atrocity, for which he should be punished under the PTA.
        /
        I am not going to show your own shit, find it on the net, Hajji.

        • 3
          2

          Because YOU CAN’T.
          You are spewing bhakt troll talking points WITH NO CREDIBLE LINKS, and cannot support your lies with facts.
          Bhakt racist comments are not going anywhere. Everyone knows their agenda. It’s pathetic.

          Only those who have lost the debate resorts to cheap name calling and insults.
          It could also indicate bad parenting when it comes to their upbringing (racist household), unemployment, unable to be successful, and lots of time in their hands. Most probably all of the above.

          You have to stop reading racist newspapers, they are conspiracy theorists influencing weak and ignorant minds.

    • 7
      3

      Helios

      Frankly CRAP. I hope you are taking the Medicine. Toilet Water with the Froth

      Electioneering by Gotha is in Full Swing and he is going to take you lot wwith him . No Country in the World has the Credentials Gotha has. Born a THUG , CRIMINAL by Profession LIAR by Trade . CROOK by Nature PARDINER by Habit and many more.

      • 8
        6

        Responding to MFs like you is not a proper use of one’s time, Bali.
        /
        So you get back to cohabiting with your 8 year old bride, Hajji.

        • 2
          1

          Talking about young brides. HERE ARE THE FACTS:

          “WHAT’S THE CHILD MARRIAGE RATE? HOW BIG OF AN ISSUE IS CHILD MARRIAGE?

          27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married before the age of 15.

          According to UNCIEF, India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 15,509,000.”

          Truth hurts eh?

          • 2
            0

            India is a predominantly HINDU nation, and in case someone is implying Muslims are the only people who have child brides:

            “According to a recent report by the Dainik Bhaskar Post, hundreds of young girls were married off across mass wedding ceremonies in the Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, on the occasion of Akshay Tritiya, an annual springtime festival celebrated by Hindus and Jains.

            At one mass wedding ceremony in the Biaora Kalan village, approximately 69 couples, largely within the age bracket of 12-16, got married.”

            Facts.

        • 0
          0

          Talking about young brides. HERE ARE THE FACTS:

          “WHAT’S THE CHILD MARRIAGE RATE? HOW BIG OF AN ISSUE IS CHILD MARRIAGE?

          27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married before the age of 15.

          According to UNCIEF, India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 15,509,000.”

          Truth hurts eh? It shows in your responses.

  • 4
    2

    The state should follow the rule of law even in arresting criminals, druggist etc. The dictum one is innocent until it is proved otherwise. Arrests should not be made at the whims and fancies of politicians. Arrests should be made on reasonable suspicion of guilt.

    The Rajapaksa government cares tuppence for the principles of rule of law, due process etc. They are vindictive.

    In advanced democracies, the Police are allowed to act independently. Politicians cannot dictate to the Police whom to arrest and who allowed going free. In Sri Lanka the Police act as an appendage of the ruling party. They coat-tail their investigation to please the ruling party.

    The justice system that showed some progress under the Yahapalanaya government, is going to the dogs once again.

  • 3
    6

    At this point of time the gentleman is under investigation.

    Soma

    • 8
      6

      By the way, who is the ‘gentleman’ you are referring to?
      /
      It can’t be Hizbulla, clearly!

      • 0
        3

        Certainly not YOU, your language is hardly “gentlemanly”.

        • 8
          4

          I have a feeling that my current language is too good to address the issue of terrorism perpetrated by Islamic cowards, and for their apologist scavengers on the Internet.
          /
          A place in hell is reserved for you, with 72 virgins (don’t expect 8 year olds, they are 90 year olds) waiting for you!
          /
          Beef eating myth believers can never be gentlemen.

          • 0
            0

            Ah, Bhakt troll indeed. Modi’s thugs and goons, who cannot stand the criticism against India. Do you have anything INTELLIGENT to say, apart from regurgitating racist comments? How about the over $120 billion dollars coming as remittances from Muslim nations? You know, the nation where racist Modi sends his people to earn money despite discriminating Muslims at home? That Muslim money looks good doesn’t it buddy?
            What would India do if that stopped coming?

  • 5
    3

    Lukman Harees

    *** Gotha is electioneering. Arresting minorities plys into th hands of the Racist. But Cyclone is brewing and that is going to hit the mainland in the form of Colateral Economic damage from which Sri Lanka willl nver recover without oustide help. Gotha MR combination is a DEATH KNELL Japan has pulled out, IMF is dithering and waiting for the Election Results . But GOSL are busy putting out false information such as $1000 Million Orders for Apparell Industry. Revival of the Tourist Sector. Exports are up. To his Credit he has paid the Public Sector workers such as Teachers and so on the full Whack for April. But there is no money for May , June and so on. People will then realize it was a Gymmick

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