Prominent international lawyer associations and human rights organizations have raised serious concerns about the ongoing trial of Sri Lankan lawyer and human rights defender Hejaaz Hizbullah, highlighting the violations of fair trial rights. In a joint statement, Lawyers for Lawyers, the Bar Human Rights Committee, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Committee (IBAHRI), the International Commission of Jurists, the Law Society of England and Wales, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expressed their worries regarding the treatment of key witnesses in the case.
The statement alleges that these witnesses have been subjected to threats, coercion, intimidation, and arrest. The international organizations firmly believe that Hizbullah is facing persecution due to his work as a lawyer and human rights defender, particularly in his efforts to protect the rights of individuals from the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. While Hizbullah’s next trial date is set for July 14, 2023, recent reports of witness intimidation and coercion have raised serious doubts about the possibility of a fair trial.
The group has called on the authorities to ensure that Hejaaz Hizbullah is granted all the necessary components of a fair trial under international law and to put an end to any acts of harassment against him. They have further demanded an immediate halt to arbitrary arrests, threats, coercion, and intimidation of witnesses in his case. Additionally, the group urges the immediate release of the remaining two potential defense witnesses who were arrested on May 18.
In light of these concerns, the organizations have also emphasized the need to reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in Sri Lanka and bring it in line with the country’s international human rights obligations.
Hejaaz Hizbullah, an attorney-at-law, was initially arrested in April 2020 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and spent more than 20 months in remand custody. While the initial reason given for his arrest was alleged links to the Easter attacks, he was later charged with promoting racial hatred, an offense under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act. Hizbullah had already spent 10 months in custody before being officially charged. In February 2022, he was granted bail by the Court of Appeal after enduring more than 20 months of detention.