Hejaaz Hizbullah is a Sri Lankan human rights lawyer. He has been a strong opponent of the country’s prejudice and violence against religious and ethnic minorities. Hejaaz Hizbullah was imprisoned without bail for 22 months under the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and released on bail on 9 February 2022.
On 14 April 2020, Hejaaz Hizbullah was apprehended by the Criminal Investigation Department. He was initially detained by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID), and afterwards on court remand. Bail was consistently rejected, and charges were brought on March 3, 2021, about a year later. During his detention, the human rights defender was denied access to his family and legal counsel. The state has yet to present any serious evidence against Hejaaz Hizbullah, and his charges have changed at least twice since his detention. The investigating strategy taken by the Sri Lankan authorities and the prosecution, as well as the paucity of evidence, strongly indicates that this case is politically motivated.
The police accused him of assisting and abetting Inshaf Ahamed, who was involved in the April 21, 2019 Easter bombings. The authorities have placed him in this situation solely because of his legitimate contacts with Mohamed Ibrahim, the father of the bombers who carried out attacks on churches in Sri Lanka at Easter 2019. Authorities have indicated publicly that his interactions with the bombers and their families were the grounds for his arrest. Mohamed Ibrahim’s sons, Inshaf and Ilham, were two of the seven bombers that detonated six blasts across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, 2019, targeting three churches and three five-star hotels and murdering over 250 people. However, no substantial evidence has emerged to support this claim.
In the mainstream Sinhala media, he was erroneously accused of advocating radical Islamism and being personally involved in the Easter Sunday attacks that murdered over 250 people in 2019. Some private media outlets intentionally fueled anti-Hezbullah sentiment by distributing misleading stories of witness testimony against him.
These media outlets, as well as scores of anonymous social media users, became disinformation campaign vectors. However, it was discovered that the source of the disinformation was within the Sri Lankan state’s security establishment. Because investigators lacked substantial evidence against Hizbullah, they generated a media frenzy around the issue in order to justify his protracted imprisonment and potentially to divert attention away from their own failures to bring the true masterminds of the Easter Sunday attacks to trial. The case of Hizbullah exemplifies the Sri Lankan state’s propensity to purposefully misrepresent the truth in order to confuse the Sri Lankan populace and prosecute opponents.
Photo: Many people were concerned about the investigation into the Easter attack. There were headlines of “Lawyer Hijaz Hezbollah and Madrasa School Principal Remanded” across all major media outlets. At the same time, it was said that lawyer Mr. Upul Kumarapperuma stated that Hijaz Hezbollah lawyer, who has been arrested for Easter investigation, is innocent and that he has given weapons training to students for the PUBG game. Crescendo fact-checkers in their investigation revealed that there was no record of Mr. Upul Kumarapperuma making such a statement and he had also strongly denied it.
|Primary actors: Political actors, he was Initially detained by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID), and afterwards on court remand.Secondary actors: Sinhala media outlets, anonymous social media users, private media outlets.||Intent: Suggests aspersive intent||He was erroneously accused of advocating radical Islamism and being personally involved in the Easter Sunday attacks.Truthfulness:The content was untrue and not based on proofNarrative: It is aligned with the disinformation narrative.||Target audience: Sri-Lankan populationPlatforms: Detained in jail, media outlets & Social media||Human rights:Right to life, freedom of expression, unlawful arrest and detention, rights of religious and ethnic minorities.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
Actor: It was the mainstream Sinhala media, anonymous social media users, and the Sri Lankan state’s security apparatus. The CID disclosed classified comments made before a magistrate in his chambers by two young children from a Puttalam school about extremist teachings and suspected “arms training” provided to college students. According to certain newspaper reports, Hizbullah provided the institution with “weapons training.” The media frenzy is in response to two fundamental rights cases brought in the Supreme Court by three juveniles through their parents, in which they claim the CID forced them into giving false statements and signing them under duress.
Behaviour: The actors such as CID were hiding or disguising their identity or actions behind news platforms that suggest aspersive intent. The news platforms were involved on the actor’s behalf. It appears Hizbullah is being targeted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Content: The content carried element of threat and possessed harm against the Muslim lawyer. The content was deceptive and untrue used with disinformation narrative.
Degree: The content was targeted against a Muslim lawyer advocating for human rights. The mainstream Sinhala media were used to distribute the content as a part of finding a scapegoat for the Easter Sunday attacks in April 2019.
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 disinformation because there was evidence of deliberate deceptive behaviour. Reference can be made to the investigating strategy taken by the Sri Lankan authorities and the prosecution indicating that his arrest was politically motivated.
Furthermore, the media outlets and social media were used for disinformation campaign against him. The investigators wanted to divert attention away from their own failures to bring the true masterminds of the Easter Sunday attacks to trial.
The Case has also been identified as incident of influence operation since there were co-ordination between Sinhala media, anonymous social media users, and the Sri Lankan state’s security apparatus with the view to further their objective of diverting attention away from Easter Sunday attacks and suppress a strong opponent of the country’s prejudice and violence against religious and ethnic minorities.
Conclusion: Hejaaz is out of jail today because he is an educated, intelligent, well-connected individual who understands his rights, is not afraid to fight for them, and can confidently speak truth to power. Hundreds of PTA detainees – Tamils, Muslims, and some Sinhalese – remain imprisoned with no access to the courts. Some Tamil detainees have been there for almost a decade, despite the fact that the PTA requires them to be brought before a judge within 18 months. Following the Easter Sunday assaults, young Muslim men have been detained for attending a sermon in a mosque or going on a tour with a moulavi [Muslim cleric].
Two years after the Easter Sunday bombings, which killed 269 people and injured over 500 more, Sri Lanka’s Christian community is still waiting for justice, while the Muslim community is still hurting from the fallout. Recent government restrictions targeting Muslims have heightened religious tensions in the South Asian country and risk alienating substantial segments of the society.