Theme: Human Rights

For nearly 40 years, Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has allowed for extended arbitrary imprisonment, the extraction of false confessions through torture, and the targeting of minority populations and civil society organisations. After years of internal and international criticism, the Sri Lankan administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a bill to amend the statute on January 27, 2022. However, the proposed revisions keep in place the most often exploited elements of the legislation, and if implemented, will do nothing to bring the PTA into line with Sri Lanka’s international human rights commitments.

The proposed amendments would not have prevented the abuses suffered by Ahnaf Jazeem, a 26-year-old Muslim poet, who was arrested under the PTA on May 26, 2020, because broadly drawn speech related offences remain unchanged. He was accused without basis of promoting “religious extremism” in a 2017 book of Tamil verse. 

Photo: Poet Ahnaf Jazeem and his book of poetry ‘Navarasam’ authored in Tamil https://english.theleader.lk/news/1409-poet-ahnaf-jazeem-completes-one-year-in-detention-without-charge

In a newspaper interview after he was released on bail following nearly two years in detention, Jazeem said that the police Terrorism Investigation Division “kept me handcuffed and isolated for 14 days. They forced me during this time to deliver a confession.” He said they threatened to keep him in prison “for 15 or 20 years” and to arrest the woman he was arranged to marry. “That is how they threatened a confession out of me.”

Prior to his arrest, Jazeem had been employed since July 2019 as a Tamil language and literature teacher at the School of Excellence, a private international school in Puttalam, a city on the northwest coast.

Since his enrollment in university, Jazeem has published award-winning poems and short stories under the pen name Mannaramuthu Ahnaf. In 2017, he published his first book of poetry in Tamil – Navarasm. The book touched on a wide range of issues within public and private life, such as religion, love, drugs, and Islamic history. The publication was launched at Jazeem’s university with nearly 1,000 people in attendance.

The Amendment Bill does not include a definition of terrorism, as requested by United Nations experts to help avoid widespread misuse of the PTA. The bill makes no changes to the law’s broad powers to charge people with speech-related offences: authorities can still arrest anyone suspected of causing or intending to cause “racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups.” This is the clause that was utilised to arrest poet Ahnaf Jazeem.

Prime actors: Sri Lankan authorities, Terrorism Investigation Department (CTID)Intent: suggests aspersive intentJazeem was apprehended on 16 May 2020 by the CID on terrorism charges, on the basis that a book of poetry he had authored in Tamil contained extremist messages for the alleged promotion of extremism through his poetry book ‘Navarasam’.Truthfulness:The content was untrue and not based on proof.Narrative: It is aligned with the disinformation narrative.Target audience: Sri-Lankan populationPlatforms: detained in jail.Human rights:right to life, freedom of expression, unlawful arrest and detention, rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

ABCDE Framework Analysis:

Actor: The actors were mainly the Sri Lankan state and the officers. It was the Prevention of Terrorism Act that was used to arrest and detain poet Jazeem. He was initially detained in May 2020 by Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) for allegedly “promoting extremism and violence” to children. His arrest was largely based on an unofficial translation of one of Jazeem’s poems, called Navarasam. Tamil literature experts and scholars noted a lack of incendiary language and therefore baseless detention of Jazeem.

Behaviour: While TID questioned the poet for two days straight, the poet was not was not given any time to sleep. They let him sleep at 5.30 a.m. in the morning, but woke him up again at 8 a.m. for inquiries. 

They forced him deliver a confession. They threatened him saying that they would keep him in prison for 15 or 20 years. They also threatened to arrest the girl the poet was supposed to marry at the time.

Content: The information that the content contains extremist messages was untrue. The content has no element of threat and possessed harm. It was the actors that used the content to deceive and frame the poet. 

Degree: The content said to be extremist was targeted to arbitrarily arrest and detain poet Jazeem advocating for human rights. They wanted to frame Hejaaz Hizbullah through him by forcing him to say Hejaaj paid him a salary while he was teaching. Then they told him to say that during the release ceremony of the book, Rishad Bathiudeen came and that he gave him money to publish this book of extremist ideas.

Effect: The content violated fundamental freedoms including right to life, freedom of expression, unlawful arrest and detention, rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

Diagnosis: The Case has been identified as incident of influence operation since there were co-ordination between Sri Lankan authorities to unlawfully arrest and detain the Sri Lankan poet. Their objective was to suppress freedom of expression of poet who writes about injustice.


Ahnaf Jazeem who has been detained for over 18 months, was bailed out on December 15, 2021 under harsh conditions imposed by a High Court judge at Puttalam in North Western Province.

The court ordered the young poet to pay three 500,000-rupee (about $US2,500) sureties and would be watched by the police’s Terrorism Investigation Division (TID). On the first and last Sundays of each month, he must report to the Puttalam police station.

The persecution of Jazeem is part of the ongoing racist provocations against Muslim and Tamil communities by the Rajapakse government.