Is this justice?

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Poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem, who was detained under draconian anti-terror laws for more than 18 months was acquitted from the case filed against him. Jazeem was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in May 2020 during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, on allegations of extremism for his poetry book called ‘Nawarasam’. Jazeem was indicted in the Puttalam High Court in November 2020 for allegedly making extremist speeches to students at the School of Excellence he taught and detained till December 2021. He later revealed that the police sought to force him to falsely confess to a connection to lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, who was similarly taken into custody under the PTA in April 2020.

Today, Jazeem has been exonerated of all accusations. Yet there has been no compensation, let alone even an apology to the enormous harm done to this individual. He spent 18 months in custody during which his health deteriorated due to the squalid conditions of detention. Authorities violated Jazeem’s due process safeguards during his time in detention while being coerced to make a false confession. The privileged conversations between Jazeem and his lawyer were recorded by the authorities, and he was kept in incommunicado detention without access to his family for over five months. It is unfathomable what psychological and emotional harm this ordeal may have caused Jazeem and his family.

In this context, has his exoneration actually delivered justice? Shouldn’t the State bear responsibility or at the very least acknowledge the enormous harm that was caused to this individual and his family. The police who arrested Jazeem under the PTA, the magistrate who authorised his detention, those who attempted to coerce him to provide false testimony, the Attorney General and his department that prosecuted him despite the flimsy evidence in the case should all be held to account.

Errors can happen in any judicial system. Innocent individuals have been wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes they did not commit. Yet, in a properly functioning judicial system the necessary checks and balances should be in place to minimise such miscarriages of justice, have in place stringent review processes and eventually when an error is detected there should be acknowledgement, accountability, and compensation by the State.

None of this has happened in the case of Ahnaf Jazeem and many others like him who have been persecuted by the State for political reasons. SSP Shani Abeysekera, Sri Lanka’s most celebrated CID sleuth was incarcerated for 11 months where he nearly died due to health conditions, only to be released on orders of the Court of Appeal which called his case “fabricated”. Dr. Shihabdeen Shafi who was serving as a gynaecologist was falsely accused and arrested for carrying out forced sterilisations on Sinhala women. He too was later exonerated and reinstated in his job. Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah was detained under the PTA for nearly two years before the Court of Appeal granted bail. None of these individuals, the dozens of Tamil PTA detainees who had been incarcerated, some for well over a decade, have received any compensation for their turmoil.

These victims’ lives have been devastated, relationships ruined, families torn apart and careers destroyed. Despite all this harm no one has been held accountable or the victims compensated for the damage caused.

This then is not justice. While their exoneration is a victory for them, their families and loved ones, it is by no means a deliverance of justice. Instead, it is a reminder of the severely broken criminal justice system of Sri Lanka which continues to be weaponised by the State against its citizenry.


source : FT

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