The arrest of leading Muslim Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on 14 April 2020 has been condemned as an illegal and arbitrary act.
His arrest with the brother of a former minister and a customs officer for the alleged involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings comes after the UN wrote a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa about rising hate speech against Muslims and other ethnic or religious minorities during the Covid19 outbreak.
Police said that the arrests came after investigations were “reopened with a fresh approach”.
Investigations earlier carried out by officers led by SSP Shani Abeysekara was handed over to a new team after President Rajapaksa came to power.
“Information has come to light that the lawyer had associated himself with the bombers,” police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne told journalists in Colombo.
“In addition, it has been reported that he had been involved with the bombers as an office bearer in an organisation. Furthermore, certain affiliations with the planning of the bombing have also been identified.”
Hejaaz Hisbulla’s family has denied any involvement in the bombing that killed over 250.
“Mr. Hizbullah is of the firm view that his arrest is illegal and arbitrary and has been done for collateral purposes, with the intention of stifling dissent,” said his family members in a statement on social media.
“To our knowledge a thorough search was done of his premises and belongings and there has been no material found to incriminate him in any manner. Mr. Hizbullah intends to fully co-operate with the investigators and believes that he will be able to clarify matters in respect of which his explanation is sought.”
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) says that the arrest had been based on events attended by Attorney-at-Law Hisbullah in a professional capacity.
“We have been informed that the arrest is based on certain functions attended to by Mr. Hisbullah in his professional capacity as a member of the Bar,” said BASL Chair Kalinga Indatissa, PC in a letter to the police chief.
“Mr. Hizbullah has over the years undertaken professional work on behalf of a wide range of clients including the challenge to the dissolution of Parliament, the Golden Key cases as well as other cases relating to fundamental rights violations. In the course of his professional work and as a citizen he has on numerous occasions challenged and called into question decisions of people in political authority,” said Hejaaz Hisbullah’s family members.
Ex Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, whose brother Riyadh Bathiudeen was also arrested on the 14th, condemned the arrests as politically motivated.
Sri Lanka saw a gradual rise in anti-Muslim hatred during the deadly virus outbreak where government officials including the head of the National Operation Centre, Army Commander Shavendra Silva identifying victims as Muslims.
“Please provide information on the steps taken to tackle potential rise in hate speech against Muslims and other ethnic or religious minorities in Sri Lanka, including by protecting the identity of the COVID-19 patients or deceased,” said a group of UN special rapporteurs in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa a week ago.