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Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem: Pawns of anti-Muslim hysteria

For more than a year lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and poet Ahnaf Jazeem have been languishing in prison.

Arrested in April 2020, Human Rights and Constitutional lawyer Hizbullah was detained under section 9 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) by the CID, while Jazeem was taken in by the Counter Terrorism Investigation Department (CTID), in May that same year on charges of teaching and publishing extremist ideas.

Jazeem is a poet. A review of his book of poetry, Navarasam, say his defenders, indicates that he condemns the use of violence. But, the CTID would have the public and the courts believe otherwise, claiming that translations of Jazeem’s poems are a call to arms. Questions have arisen about the authenticity of the translations done for the CTID.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah is accused of ‘aiding and abetting’ an individual who carried out the Easter 2019 bombings. His connection to the bomber is questionable and only alleged since he represented the bomber's family in a legal case. Could the investigators make that accusation stick? Based on statements by two minors, which his lawyers say were obtained under coercion, Hizbullah is charged now for speech related offences.

Hizbullah and Jazeem's lawyers and civil rights activists have been speaking out against an alleged lack of due process and prolonged detention of the two. Adding to those voices on July 13, ninety-six university academics released a statement calling for their immediate release.

The academics point out that the two had been arrested 'in a context of unrelenting anti-Muslim mobilisations that are tearing our social fabric apart.' They further state that they are 'are deeply worried about the continuing deterioration of the criminal justice system and the institutional decay it more broadly signals, as these developments are also symptomatic of a gradual hollowing out of the democratic bases of society.'

The statement which traces back anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence to 2012, points out that 'Violence and intimidation continue, bolstered by the government’s complicity in these acts in the name of “national security”.’

Indeed, for more than a decade, Sri Lankan governments have promoted and turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim ideas and behaviours. The idea that Muslims are all out to turn Sri Lanka into a Sharia State, and render Sinhalese infertile is a myth that has taken hold amongst many. The public has been led to believe that food or clothes bought from Muslim owned businesses are laced with substances that cause infertility. Additionally, there was the case against Dr. Segu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi, attached to the Kurunegala hospital, who was accused of somehow damaging the fallopian tubes of Sinhala women under his medical care. Investigations carried out by the CID proved these accusations false, yet, there are many who continue to believe in his guilt. Needless to say, the Ministers in the current administration, which was in the opposition at the time, helped promote this ludicrous allegation amongst the public.

Following the Easter bombings, media had a field day displaying swords and knives, alleged to have been found in Muslim homes during raids conducted by investigators. The government of the time was quick to ban Muslim women from using face coverings, though none of the Easter bombers were women! It seemed more like a gesture to appease the nationalist currents simmering below the surface. Covid-19 provided yet another tool of oppression; Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned burying those who succumbed to the virus, claiming such actions would contaminate ground water, despite evidence from scientists who claimed otherwise. Most Abrahamic religions bury their dead. Sri Lanka changed her stand only when faced with the UNHRC motion on human rights, earlier this year. But of course, it was too little, too late for Sri Lanka, the motion carried through.

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Read the academics statements in full, attached.

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