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Ten human rights groups demand immediate release of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah

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A collective of 10 human rights groups including the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have called for the release of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and several others currently detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Expressing their concern over the detention of Hizbullah, the organizations said in a joint statement that in the absence of any credible evidence presented before a court of law, Hizbullah should be released immediately and unconditionally.

They claimed that provisions in the PTA have been used in the past to prevent and effectvely punish the exercise of freedom of expression, particularly by critics of the government, including journalists.

“We express deep concern over the continued detention of lawyer and minority and civic rights activist Hejaaz Hizbullah, who has been held under the PTA for 15 months. He was arrested on April 14, 2020 under the PTA. He was accused by the police of aiding and abetting Inshaf Ahamed (who was involved in the April 21, 2019 bombings), an accusation that has since been withdrawn. Since Hejaaz Hizbullah has been in detention the allegations against him have changed several times and his detention has been extended for over 15 months, the statement said.

 

It further said:

“The latest allegation on which an indictment was filed against Hejaaz Hizbullah in the High Court on February 18, 2021, is a speech-related offence of “causing communal disharmony,” one of a number of overly broad offences provided under the PTA. The indictment is based on a statement to the Criminal Investigation Department of the police made by a child regarding a speech allegedly made by Hizbullah in Puttalam. Other children who were questioned at the same time by the same officers filed fundamental rights cases claiming they were coerced by police officers to falsely implicate Hejaaz Hizbullah. Combined with the repeated changes in the allegations, this leads us to believe the allegations against him are unsupported by any credible evidence.

“The PTA allows for the prolonged incarceration, based on mere suspicion, of any person who “causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups.” The same provision has been used in the past to prevent and effectively punish the exercise of freedom of expression, particularly by critics of the government, including journalists.

“Hejaaz Hizbullah is a vocal critic of the government. He is a minority rights advocate in a climate increasingly hostile to Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic minorities. He is also one of the lawyers who challenged the dissolution of the parliament in 2018 in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court. Since the Sri Lankan authorities have so far been unable to show any evidence of wrongdoing, it appears he is being targeted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. We call for Hejaaz Hizbullah’s immediate release and for the charges against him to be dropped.

“Since the time of his arrest, Hejaaz Hizbullah has been repeatedly denied the right to due process safeguards recognized by international law. He was not informed of the reason for his arrest and has been held in prolonged administrative detention without judicial oversight to monitor his wellbeing, and  without access to bail. While in police custody he was prevented from accessing his legal counsel in private until an order was issued  by the Court of Appeal. In February, he was charged and moved to judicial remand custody, where he was able to speak with his family for the first time in 10 months.

“Thereafter visitation rights were restricted, and he has not been allowed any access to his family or counsel since April 2021. Under international human rights law, particularly under article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sri Lanka is a state party, all detainees have a right of reasonable access to their family and lawyers.

Hejaaz Hizbullah is one of many people detained for inordinate lengths of time without due process under Sri Lanka’s draconian counterterrorism laws. In a study published in December 2020, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka found that many PTA prisoners were in remand for up to 15 to 20 years. This is an abuse of detainees held under the PTA and is a flagrant violation of the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial, as protected under articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR. Many PTA detainees have also been allegedly tortured or ill-treated in custody.

“We are deeply concerned by Sri Lanka’s continuing use of the PTA to enable arbitrary detention, despite commitments made to repeal the Act. The government of Sri Lanka should:

• Guarantee the protection of the human rights of all PTA detainees including guarantees of due process and a fair trial, and protection from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture or other ill-treatment, including;

Immediately review the detention of those held under the PTA, ensuring adequate access to fair bail hearings, and immediate release for all those not facing internationally recognizable charges;

Ensure that all PTA detainees have regular access to legal counsel on a confidential basis and to family members and friends at regular intervals;

 

Ensure the right to a fair trial, including pre-trial rights, of those accused under the PTA;

 

• Repeal the PTA and issue an immediate moratorium on its use; and

• Facilitate access to effective remedies and reparations to those whose human rights have been violated due to the use of the PTA.

 

The statement was issued by:

• Amnesty International

• Article 19

• Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

• CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

• Front Line Defenders

• Human Rights Watch

• International Bar Association’s Human Rights Initiative

• International Commission of Jurists

• International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)

• International Working Group on Sri Lanka

• Sri Lanka Campaign for Truth and Justice



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Explanation sought over Monetary Board Secy.’s sudden transfer

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Rohini calls for social media campaign against govt. move

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has sought an explanation from the government over the sudden removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, K.M.A.N. Daulagala on16 Sept.

Matale District lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne yesterday (19) questioned the rationale behind Assistant Governor Daulagala’s removal. The former UNP MP emphasised that Daulagala had played a critically important role in the Central Bank’s response in the wake of Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016. Therefore, her removal was quite suspicious and might facilitate efforts to suppress those scams as well as future frauds as well.

MP Kaviratne represented the UNP during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister (2015-2019).

Declaring that Daulagaha had been at the forefront of the efforts to create a clean administration, Kaviratne stressed that she was second only to Rohini Nanayakkara of the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) and earned the respect of all for courageously taking a stand against fraudulent practices.

The SJB spokesperson said that Daulagala, in her capacity as the head of the non-banking sector financial institutions, handled the ETI investigation at the onset (2010-2012) of the probe. In the wake of her recommendations pertaining to the ETI being rejected by the Central Bank, she received a transfer to another section, MP Kaviratne said.

The Monetary Board is responsible for making all policy decisions related to the management, operation and administration of the Central Bank. It comprises Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle, Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, Dr (Mrs) Ranee Jaymaha and Samantha Kumarasinghe.

Cabraal, who served as the Governor (2006-2014) recently replaced W.D. Lakshman on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request.

Kaviratne asked who had benefited from the removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board?

MP Kaviratne said that Daulagala had been involved in the internal process following the first Treasury bond scam and the subsequent developments, including the coordination between the Central Bank and the Attorney General’s Department pertaining to the Treasury bond scams. Urging women’s organsations, civil society and law abiding citizens to take up Daulagala’s removal through social media, lawmaker Kaviratne said that the issue at hand should receive attention of the parliament.

“The Parliament is responsible for public finance. The Parliament cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on in the Central Bank. The national economy is in such a perilous state every effort should be made to investigate past frauds and thwart future adventures,” the MP said.

MP Kaviratne also recalled the role played by Deepa Seneviratne, Superintendent of Public Debt at the time of the first Treasury bond scam in exposing the then Governor’s culpability. “Unfortunately, we seem to be unable to change the direction regardless of exposure of past misdeeds,” she said.

Declaring that she had no intention of protecting any wrongdoer under any circumstances, MP Kaviratne said that the incumbent government should ensure transparency and accountability in public finance.

Examination of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) proceedings revealed a frightening picture, lawmaker Kaviratne said. Shocking revelations made by the watchdog committee should be examined against the backdrop of overall deterioration of the national economy over the past several years, the MP said.

She said that it would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to blame the current crisis on the raging Covid-19 epidemic. Acknowledging the difficulties caused by the economic downturn, MP Kaviratne said that the country was paying a huge price for unbridled waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence.

The MP asserted that the citizenry could play a bigger role in a political campaign on social media. The vast majority of those who use social media strengthened democratic opposition, she said. Removal of Daulagala could be a rallying point, she said, urging public onslaught on the SLPP government.

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Those responsible for Easter carnage will be haunted eternally – Bishop Galle

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA

The Chief Celebrant of the 114th annual feast of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Matara, Bishop of the Diocese of Galle, Rev. Dr. Raymond Wickremasinghe told a virtual congregation that the conscience of those responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage would never be at peace and it would haunt them eternally.

 The celebrations of the 114th annual Feast of the National shrine of Our Lady of Matara commenced on 05 September with the raising of the flagstaff and ended on Sunday 12 September. This year’s feast was held in keeping with strict health guidelines sans public participation.

 Rev Dr. Wickremasinghe reiterated that it was the wish of the general public, especially all Christians that those who carried out and those masterminded and those who knew but did not prevent the Easter Sunday carnage would be exposed and Justice served. “It is our prayer that the divine father guides the authorities in their endeavours” the Bishop added

 Rev. Wickremesinghe also called upon every person including decision-makers to heed the advice of the experts and act intelligently to overcome the pandemic.

 The Marian procession carrying the miraculous statue of our lady of Matara. accompanied by clergy and security personnel paraded the town, concluding this year’s festivities.

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Wild jumbos destroy houses in search of newly harvested paddy

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BY CYRIL WIMALASURENDRE

KANDY— Herds of wild elephants raid Ududumbara and Minipe area sdestroying houses in search of newly harvested paddy.

Farmers of Minipe, Hasalaka and Udadumbara keep paddy in their houses as they are without proper storage facilities.

Kandy District Secretary Chandana Tennakoon visited the house of a farmer destroyed by elepheants in Kongahaela, Hasalaka.

The victim informed the District Secretary Tennakoon that a herd of elephants including young ones were roaming had attacked his house.

Similar complaints were made to the District Secretary by farmers at Minipe, Hasalaka, Welgala, Ulpathagama and Udunuwara.

The farmers said at least they should be provided with an adequate number of elephant crackers to scare the elephants away. The farmers had to travel about 30 km to the Randenigala Wildlife Office office to receive one cracker each, they said, adding that they needed many more.

District secretary Tennakoon told the farmers that steps would be taken to resolve the issue this year by putting up an elephant  fence around the affected villages of Ududumbara, Medsadumbara, Minipe and Hasalaka sector.

The project would cost about Rs. 100 million. The length of the fence would be about 43 km, he said.

Divisional Secretary of Minipe Nuwan Hemachandra and Deputy Director of Plan Implementation Palitha Rajapakse were present.

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