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The Mannar Poet Behind Bars

7 January 2021 03:58 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The nightmare of Ahnaf Jazeem, a 25 year old poet from Mannar, began in May last year when the CID arrested him because of a collection of poetry he published in 2017. He was arrested on charges of promoting extremism and remanded under the much criticized Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). 

His fellow writers, academics and human rights activists allege that the young poet remains in jail without being charged after being falsely accused as a part of government’s alleged anti-Muslim agenda and attacks on the freedom of expression.

"His fellow writers, academics and human rights activists allege that the young poet remains in jail without being charged after being falsely accused as a part of government’s alleged anti-Muslim agenda and attacks on the freedom of expression"

Although the CID has alleged that the poetry book demonstrates that he supports terrorism, human rights activists and several academics said the book promotes peace and ethnic harmony and is hostile towards the murderous policies of ISIS, declaring that it has no connection with Islam.

The PTA, introduced in 1979 as a temporary measure, was widely used during Sri Lanka’s 30-year war against the LTTE. The provisions of the act allows the authorities to detain anyone for periods of up to 18 months (renewable by order every three months) without any charges, has resulted in several being arrested even after the end of the war. 

Another move in connection with the investigation into Ahnaf’s case criticized by the activists was the clarification and translation of the traditional language in some of Ahnaf’s poetry which was sent to child psychiatrists at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for further examination on its ‘harm’  to children. This has been done as police said because the poet had circulated his book among children. The poems were later deemed to be harmful by the child psychiatrists.

"It reminds me of the fate of Ramzy Razeek, a journalist and translator who was arrested and kept under custody for more than six months without any trial because of one word he used in his Facebook page. He was recently released on bail"

Speaking to a sister paper, Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Jaffna who read an electronic version of Ahnaf’s book of verses said the arrest of the poet was “baffling” and worried the case would worsen the ‘culture of fear’ that may stifle future writers.

Meanwhile, Peradeniya University’s retired professor of Tamil, M. A. Nuhman was of the view that when he read the collection of poems, he found nothing on extremism in them and instead there were several of them against extremism, violence and war in the collection. 

He believes that such sentiments regarding religious morality, humanism, love and a peaceful life must have been misunderstood. He claimed that the authorities, who cannot read and understand Tamil, must have thought there might be some extremism since there are a few pictures of persons with arms printed in the book. 

“It reminds me of the fate of Ramzy Razeek, a journalist and translator who was arrested and kept under custody for more than six months without any trial because of one word he used in his Facebook page. He was recently released on bail. This should not have happened again, but it has. This is really unfortunate,” Prof. Nuhman said.

In October 2015, following the August elections, the then government under former president Maithripala Sirisena agreed to a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The resolution committed the government to ensure accountability for conflict-related abuses by enacting several transitional justice mechanisms.

Along with other human rights related reforms, the government also pledged to repeal the PTA.
In 2018, an alternative counter-terrorism law, the Counter-Terrorism Act, was submitted to Parliament. But it was never passed into law. Minister Bandula Gunawardana, said: “The PTA is back in the statute book, empowering the police and armed forces to face any threat posed to national security from any quarter”.

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