Sri Lanka lawyer detained for 2 years over suspected terror links gets bail

Colombo, Feb 7 (EFE).- A court Monday gave bail to human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah two years after his arrest over suspected links to the 2019 Easter bombing that killed over 250 people in Sri Lanka.

Hizbullah, called a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was arrested on Apr.14, 2020, on trumped-up charges under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Police also accused him of inciting racial disharmony on the island.

Lawmaker Eran Wickramaratne welcomed the court decision to give bail to Hizbullah.

But Wickramaratne said the battle to revoke the PTA would continue.

“We must not waver from our call to repeal the much abused PTA that was used to detain him in the first place. We must ensure there will be no more prisoners of conscience like Hejaaz,” he tweeted.

The European Union and international rights groups had called for his release since the police had produced no evidence to prove his alleged terror links.

In a statement on Monday, Human Rights Watch said the Sri Lankan government was using the law to commit prolonged arbitrary detention and torture.

The rights group urged the European Union, other trading partners, and donors, to press for a time-bound action to repeal the abusive law and reject the government’s “vague pledges of reform.”

“Sri Lankan authorities continue to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act to sweep away targeted people’s basic rights, reneging on past government promises to repeal the law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“EU members and other countries should reject the (President) Rajapaksa administration’s unconvincing promises to reform the PTA and press for the law’s prompt repeal.”

The Sri Lankan government approved some amendments to the counter-terror law last month.

In a letter to Sri Lanka’s Attorney General in July last year, Amnesty International said the PTA had “a chilling effect” on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

The law gives authorities sweeping powers to arbitrarily detain individuals for up to 18 months without charge or trial on mere suspicion of an offense.

“The principle of legality requires laws to classify and describe offenses in precise and unambiguous language that narrowly defines the punishable behavior,” Amnesty said.

“The PTA’s offenses are overly broad, vague and subjective, and have been used in the past to suppress critics of government.” EFE


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