Lanka produces long-held prominent human rights lawyer in court

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Colombo, Feb 18 (PTI) Sri Lanka's prominent human rights lawyer Hejaz Hezbullah, who has been detained for over 10 months for alleged links in the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attack, was on Thursday presented in a court for the first time since his detention, a move his lawyers believe has been taken ahead of a UN session focussing on the country's human rights record.

The magistrate's court remanded Hezbullah until March 3 after charging him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the international covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR), his lawyers said.

The court appearance comes ahead of next week's UNHRC sessions where Sri Lanka's human rights accountability record is to come under focus, they said.

Hezbullah was arrested in April last year for alleged links in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings carried out by a local jihadi group. The police alleged that Hezbullah had aided and abetted the Easter Sunday bombings.

Nine suicide bombers belonging to Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, 2019, killing 258 people, including 11 Indians.

Hezbullah was not given access to his lawyers or the family during the detention. He was also not produced in the court during this time and held without a charge despite international pressure from European Union, Amnesty International and other right.

According to an earlier report in the Colombo Page, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in April last year called upon the Sri Lankan authorities to respect human rights in the conduct of their investigation of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.

They also called on the authorities to ensure that investigations into the alleged involvement of Hizbullah in the Easter bombings are conducted in accordance with due process and fair trial guarantees under international law, the report said.

Specifically, the authorities must specify the charges against him, grant him full and immediate access to a lawyer, and investigate the circumstances of his arrest for potential rights violations, the ICJ had said. PTI CORR RS RS