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  • A country obsessed with racial and religious conflicts
    Sri Lanka, as a nation has been wasting time debating sensitive racial and religious issues for the past several years, without gaining anything. Only thing the country has been witnessing as a result is communities distancing themselves from each other, while portraying a false unity among them. 
    The situation seems to have come to a head with people of various communities being emotionally charged over these issues subsequent to the attacks on three Christian churches and three major tourist hotels by the Islamic terrorists on April 21, 2019, which was also the Easter Sunday.
    The terrorist attacks which caught the nation off-guard demanded united action by all communities and political parties to handle the immediate situation and to prevent future recurrence of...
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  • Burqa ban: Security, human rights and male chauvinism
    A few years ago, on a Turkish beach exclusively for women, a bikini-clad woman offered her prayers. The video clip of the woman going through the postures of the Muslim prayer went viral and created a major debate among the Muslims.  Some censured her for not adhering to the dress code for prayers, but others said what mattered was her piety and not the dress.
    Following the release of the Easter Sunday terror attack commission report, Sri Lanka is mulling whether to ban burqa – the Muslim dress that covers a female body from head to toe – and niqab, which only shows the eyes of the wearer, but the issue needs to be looked at from human rights, security and spiritual angles to come to a right decision.
    If at the one end of the spectrum is public nudity, burqa will...
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  • South African Muslim bodies seek intervention over burqa ban in Sri Lanka Foreign Minister of South Africa urged to intervene
    South African Muslim organisations have called on the country’s foreign minister to intervene in the proposed Sri Lankan ban on the burqa and closure of hundreds of Islamic schools. This followed the announcement by Sri Lanka''s minister for public security, Sarath Weerasekera, during the weekend that his country would ban the traditional full-face covering worn by some Muslim women because it posed a threat to national security. This was quickly followed by a statement from the Sri Lankan foreign ministry, which said a decision would only be taken on the proposal after consultations and further discussion. The United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) has now asked South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor to intervene in the matter. UUCSA had earlier also called for such intervention when...
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  • Banning Burqas and Madrasas illegal: Fmr MP
    Former MP M.M .Zuhair said yesterday it would be unlawful to ban Burqas and Madrasas. Issuing a statement, he said some observations and recommendations of the Commission on Easter Sunday attacks are invasive of the absolute protection given to every person under Article 10 of the Sri Lanka Constitution. He said the Commission’s report though good in parts, can be seen as an attempted assault on Islam for the heinous crimes of a dozen suicide bombers. The right to the freedom stated in Article 10 is ‘assured to all religions’ under Article 9. No one, not even Presidential Commissions can invite or promote the State or any limb of the Executive or Judiciary to violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 10.This protection is guaranteed notwithstanding any national security concerns, as the law stands today. In this constitutionally...
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  • Pakistan says likely ban on Niqab in SL to serve as injury on Muslims
    The Ambassador of Pakistan to Sri Lanka, Saad Khattak today said the likely ban on Niqab in Sri Lanka will only serve as an injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe. In a tweet, the Ambassador said that at today’s economically difficult time due to COVID-19 pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at the international fora, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country. Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Retd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera said today that in addition to banning the burqa, the cabinet proposal would also include banning the niqab which covers the face of the wearer except the eyes. The...
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  • යුරෝපයේ රටවල් 8 කින් හිස්බුල්ලාට සහාය
    මානව හිමිකම් වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටින ප්‍රමුඛ නීතිඥවරයකු වන හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා මහතා වැනි මානව හිමිකම් ආරක්ෂා කරන්නන්ට ගරු කරන ලෙස ශ්‍රී ලංකා රජයෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටිමින් යුරෝපීය රටවල් අටක මානව හිමිකම් තානාපතිවරුන් ඒකාබද්ධ නිවේදනයක් නිකුත් කර තිබේ. නෙදර්ලන්තය, ජර්මනිය, එංගලන්තය ස්වීඩනය, එස්ටෝනියාව, ලිතුවේනියාව, ලක්සම්බර්ග් සහ ෆින්ලන්තය...
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  • Eight EU HR Ambassadors raise concern over Hejaaz Hizbullah
    In a statement issued today, Eight Human Rights  Ambassadors of Europe including the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden called on the Sri Lankan government to " respect human rights defenders such as Hizbullah". The statement issued by the Ambassadors of the United Kingsdom, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and the Netherlands said that after ten months of Detention, Hejaaz Hizbullah was being accused of speech related offences. Prominent Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department on the 14th of April 2020. He was thereafter accused in the media of various activities related to terrorism. He was thereafter produced on the 18th of February 2021 where the Attorney General informed court that the entire case against Hizbullah was to be based on purported statements made by children. Hizbullah...
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  • Circular on burial of COVID-19 victims issued
    The circular containing the guidelines with regard to the burial of COVID-19 victims has been issued, the Health Ministry said. Some key guidelines are as follows, The relatives of the deceased should inform the Director/ Head of the health care institution (Where the death has occurred) of their desire to bury the corpse without delay. The Director of the hospital/ Head of the health care institution should obtain a written request from relatives for burial. The relatives need to provide a coffin in advance. It is the duty of the director/ Head of health care institution to transport the corpse in a coffin provided by the relatives to a designated location in Colombo Institute of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology (office of JMO) / BH Welikanda where the corpse will be received by the designated officer. The vehicle transporting the...
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  • Muslims to raise concerns over Iranaithivu burial with global bodies
    A leading Muslim organisation in Sri Lanka will this week send an official letter of concern to the global Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the World Muslim Congress, seeking their intervention to urge the Sri Lankan government to allocate a decent land for the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims. The Daily Mirror learns that the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre, which is a member of the World Muslim Congress will raise serious concerns with the global bodies and will also send a letter to the World Muslim Congress office in Geneva urging for immediate intervention after the government announced that burials of the COVID-19 dead would take place on the Iranaithivu Island, in the Gulf of Mannar. Senior Muslim officials said they were disappointed at the government’s decision to allocate the Iranaithivu Isle for the burials and instead urged...
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  • Hizbullah and Madrasa School Principal further remanded
    Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah and Principal of Madrasa School Mohammed Shakeel were further remanded till March 18 by the Fort Magistrate’s Court today. They were earlier remanded under section 2 (1) (h) of the PTA and section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act.   http://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking_news/Hizbullah-and-Madrasa-School-Principal-further-remanded/108-206945 Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.
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Hejaaz: A lawyer for all seasons

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A year has passed since the deadly Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka. Victims, survivors, and the general public still await answers. Amidst these desperate demands for accountability, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent Muslim lawyer, is suddenly – and most unexpectedly – arrested and detained.

I met Hejaaz during the first-ever debating tournament I participated in. He led the team from S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, and I represented St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. Our teams made it to the finals that year. I recall Hejaaz as a fierce competitor with the rare gift for conveying an argument with charisma and conviction. He also had a great sense of humour, taking friendly banter in good spirit. The Thomians triumphed that year, and deservedly so.

What strikes me now is that five of the eight young debaters that day went on to become lawyers. We had found our community: the legal fraternity.

A few years later, I encountered Hejaaz again. It was in the first ever case I argued before the Court of Appeal. Hejaaz represented the State, and I represented certain public officers seeking promotions. I recall his keen knowledge of the law, and his outstanding skills in advocacy. But on this occasion, I also encountered another side to him. He was not just interested in winning an argument. I detected in him a deeper commitment to justice. He did not see himself merely as a representative of the State; he saw himself as an officer of justice.


This commitment to justice has defined Hejaaz’s legal career. After leaving the Attorney-General’s Department, he entered the private bar. He became a tenacious defender and champion of the Sri Lankan Constitution, and an outspoken representative of victims of hate and violence.

Most importantly, he has been a leading voice against violent extremism on all sides. Hejaaz has consistently stood against inter-religious and inter-ethnic hatred and violence in all its forms.

In the days that followed the Easter Sunday attacks, Hejaaz was among the first to publicly condemn the heinous crimes. He called for the rejection of hatred to ‘confirm that the attackers are fools who died as fools’. He has since taken an active role in promoting reconciliation and coexistence among communities in Sri Lanka.

In the last few weeks, we have witnessed a cruel irony: a lawyer who stood up against violent extremism is being maligned as an ‘extremist’ in the ‘court’ of public opinion. It is unconscionable that an officer of the court is now being deprived of his basic right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He is yet to be produced before a judge, and is yet to be given meaningful access to his lawyers.

Even before a judge has had the opportunity to examine Hejaaz (let alone make an order with regard to his case), he is being pronounced ‘guilty’ through a vicious and prejudicial media narrative against him.

If indeed Hejaaz is on trial by public opinion, let us consider some facts that emerge from his fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court. These facts are rarely featured in this prejudicial narrative.

Hejaaz has been at the forefront of defending democracy and peace in Sri Lanka. Recall that the country was thrust into a constitutional crisis in October 2018. Hejaaz was the lawyer who represented Election Commissioner Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole before the Supreme Court in the case concerning the unlawful dissolution of Parliament. He was among the leading lawyers who convinced the Court that the President’s actions were unconstitutional. The rest is history. We owe an irreparable debt of gratitude to Hejaaz; his work helped preserve Sri Lanka’s fragile constitutional democracy.

Hejaaz has also appeared in scores of court cases concerning Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera. He is the lawyer in Fundamental Rights applications that deal with alleged hate speech by this Buddhist clergyman, and the 2014 Aluthgama violence. Hejaaz is also the lawyer in a defamation case against Ven. Gnanasara Thera.

When you think of ‘Hejaaz Hizbullah, Attorney-at-Law,’ do not uncritically accept the picture that is painted of him in the media. Ask yourself if this picture bears any resemblance to what we know of him. He is the lawyer who represented an Election Commissioner in one of the most important cases in our country’s constitutional history. He is the lawyer who has fearlessly defended victims of hatred and violence in numerous cases. He is the lawyer who tirelessly stood against violent extremism by confronting powerful and influential people.

Once we put Hejaaz’s arrest and detention in its proper context, we begin to see it for what it really is: an indecent assault on one of the legal profession’s finest. A crude punishment – not for engaging in extremism, but for working against it. His is not just a case concerning the unjust treatment of an individual with strong political opponents. It is the culmination of a tectonic shift in Sri Lanka: where extremists are pardoned, and voices against extremism are jailed.

Hejaaz Hizbullah is part of a profession that I count myself privileged to be a member of. He is part of the reason I, like many others who encountered him in our youth, decided to join this profession. He is, and always will be, part of the reason many more will join it.

http://www.ft.lk/columns/Hejaaz-A-lawyer-for-all-seasons/4-699988

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