Hejaaz Hizbullah released on bail
On 7 February 2022, Hejaaz Hizbullah was granted bail by the Court of Appeal after almost two years of pre-trial detention under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act. On 9 February, Mr. Hizbullah was released on bail and reunited with his family members.
Mr. Hizbullah is a minority rights advocate and legal counsel for Muslim victims of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. On the 14 April 2020, Mr. Hizbullah was arrested without reasonable grounds by the Criminal Investigation Department under the ¨Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Mr. Hizbullah was later officially charged with “inciting communal disharmony under” under the PTA, for “advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” under the ICCPR Act of 2007 and for conspiracy and abetment charges under the Penal Code.
Mr. Hizbullah is the first lawyer to have been detained under the PTA. The Sri Lankan Government has continuously pledged to reform the PTA, but has failed to do so until this moment. In the meantime, several institutions/bodies (amongst which the European Parliament and a number of Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations) have urged Sri Lanka to reform the PTA, considering that it is a law that violates Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations. Lawyers for Lawyers previously issued a letter to urge the Sri Lankan authorities to release Mr. Hizbullah.
According to our information, the bail hearing of Mr. Hizbullah took place on the 19 November 2021 at the Puttalam High Court. During this hearing, the judge stated that the High Court does not have the jurisdiction to grant bail under the PTA, and additionally pointed towards an inconsistency between the PTA and the constitution, which should be dealt with on a higher level and the legislative branch of government. Mr. Hizbullah’s revision application against the order refusing him bail was taken up in the Court of Appeal on 21 January 2022. The State informed the Court that the prosecution would consent to bail being granted to Hejaaz at the conclusion of proceedings on 28 January 2022 in the Puttalam High Court, if the Defence were to make such an application. On 28 January, the Puttalam High Court refused to grant bail to Mr. Hizbullah, despite the Attorney General consenting to bail. However, we welcome the news that Mr. Hizbullah was granted bail on 7 February 2022 and subsequently released on 9 February.
While Lawyers for Lawyers welcomes the news that Mr. Hizbullah has been released on bail, we are still concerned over the fact that the charges against him have not been dropped. We will keep monitoring the case closely.
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