A group of 117 individuals and six institutions that handle human rights issues is calling on the Chief Justice to take note of the alleged interference by law enforcement officers in the ‘right of an officer of the Supreme Court to practice his profession freely and make necessary interventions to ensure attorneys-at-law are able to perform their functions without fear.”
Releasing a statement on April 22, 2020, the group is registering its protest against the manner in which attorney-at-law Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested and his continued detention.
Mr. Hizbullah was arrested on April 14 this year. Addressing a media briefing soon after, the Police stated that the arrest by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was related to the Easter Sunday 2019 bombings.
Referring to media reports on the habeas corpus application filed by Mr. Hizbullah’s father, the statement further adds that the CID officers who had arrested Mr. HIzbullah at his home, had taken him to his law chambers, where they had accessed two case files and also searched and read other material connected to his practice. It is alleged that Mr. Hizbullah had not been informed of the reason for his arrest nor allowed access to his lawyers, except for about 15 minutes, in which a CID officer had also been present.
While acknowledging the importance of conducting a full investigation into any alleged offence, the group points out that prima facie, in this case, due process has not been followed. According to information available the group states that Mr. Hizbullah, his family nor his lawyers have been informed of the reason for his arrest. The reason had been given in a media conference called by the police held on April 15.
The group states that it is unclear under which law Mr. HIzbullah is being detained while stating that media reports indicate it is under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). While pointing out that Mr. Hizbullah has not yet been produced before a Magistrate, the group draws attention to the fact that if this is the case, he should have been produced before a Magistrate within 72 hours of the arrest or a detention order obtained. As neither seems to have taken place, it states that it “could render the arrest and detention arbitrary, and hence constitute a violation of Article 13 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.”
That Mr. Hizbullah’s case files had been accessed, says the statement is ‘a severe impingement of attorney- client privilege, as well as of Mr. Hizbullah’s right to practice his profession freely. Such blatant disregard of the due process rights of an officer of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and what appears to be his right to practice his profession freely, have a chilling effect on all legal professionals in Sri Lanka, as it creates fear they will be penalized for meeting with persons who are alleged to have committed offences as part of performing their duties as attorneys- at- law.
Writing to the Acting Inspector General of Police, on April 15th, the chairman of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka also drew attention to the fact that Mr. HIsbullah had been arrested without being informed of the reason. The BASL, states the letter, had 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.”
The BASL has requested the Acting IGP to direct his officers to ensure that, ‘the professional rights of Mr. Hisbullah are given due consideration and that the BASL is informed of the basis and reasons for his arrest.”
Meanwhile, releasing a statement on April 21, the International Commission of Jurists is calling upon Sri Lanka to respect human rights while investigating the 2019 Easter bombings. It also asks that the authorities specify the charges against Hejaaz Hisbullah and ‘grant him full and immediate access to a lawyer, and investigate the circumstances of his arrest for potential rights violations.”
The statements can be read here: