South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, expresses deep concern over the year-long detention of Sri Lankan poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem. Sunday marks one year since his arbitrary detention with authorities failing to charge him or follow due process.
Ahnaf Jazeem whose pen name is Mannaramuthu Ahnaf, a 26-year-old Muslim poet from Chilawathurai in the Mannar district, was arrested on 16 May 2020 and detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) over allegedly promoting Islamic extremism and terrorism in connection to his book of poetry in Tamil called “Navarasam” published in July 2017. The anthology included poems humour, courage, anger and on political themes and he was critical of US imperialism, the Rohingya genocide and the Islamic State (IS) in his poetry.
It is reported that Ahnaf was initially arrested with a detention order valid for three months which is being extended. He is being detained without charges or any valid evidence being presented to the court over his arrest and has had no legal representation.
We believe that Ahnaf’s arrest and detention are a serious violation of his freedom of expression and his fundamental rights against arbitrary detention, access to legal counsel, and a fair trial. His case is one among that have created a climate of fear among fellow poets, authors, activists and minority communities over the use of the PTA to detain individuals with unclear charges.
We reiterate our concern that the PTA has been continuously used to arrest and detain Sri Lankan citizens in order to silence dissenting voices. Hejaz Hizbullah is also among many others who continue to languish in jails months or often years unjustly due to this draconian law which provides authorities with blatant impunity to arrest persons without following due process.
We are deeply concerned by Ahnaf’s ongoing arbitrary detention and call for his immediate release. Sri Lankan authorities must immediately specify the charges against which he is detained and grant him access to legal representation. We also reiterate our call to the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which violates the citizens fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and is not in line with Sri Lanka’s international human rights commitments.
On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami