Health concerns for detained blogger
Ramzy Razeek, a retired government official from Katugastota in Kandy, central Sri Lanka, is a regular commentator on social and political affairs on his Facebook account. Through his posts, he has consistently advocated for inter-faith harmony, equality, justice and anti-racism. Ramzy was arrested from his house by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police in the afternoon of 9 April 2020 allegedly for his opinions posted on Facebook.
A week before his arrest, on 2nd April, Ramzy had posted the following in his Facebook wall: “…Muslims have been surrounded on all sides by racist groups operating in the country in a manner that they are unable to face such an ideological war. The Muslim community remains shocked being unable to do anything in the face of intellectual attack…Muslims should immediately prepare for an ideological jihad (ideological struggle...It is time to prepare for an ideological jihad (ideological struggle) for the country and all its citizens, using the pen and key-board as weapons. Muslims should focus more on helping people understand truth through an ideological struggle, using every available space, including the mainstream media and social media, to face the hate propaganda against Muslims, who are also people in this country. Nothing is impossible.” It is believed the above post in particular and other previous posts led to his arrest.
Ramzy is reported to have received death threats from several people after his post on 2nd April, in response to which he had made a complaint to the Inspector General of Police on the morning of 9 April 2020. Ramzy also went into self-censorship and announced on 3rd April 2020 that he would refrain from posting anything related to politics or national problems to avoid endangering his children. Instead of taking actions against those who threatened him for his opinions, the Police arrested Ramzy.
Ramzy Razeek’s hearing has been deferred multiple times, and he has been remanded until 28 May for his next hearing at the Magistrate in Colombo. According to Ramzy’s lawyers, the Police had cited the ICCPR Act and Computer Crimes Act for his arrest. Lawyers or his family members have been restricted from visiting and communicating with him due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. According to his family, Ramzy has several medical complications including arthritis, kidney failure, liver problems, cardiovascular diseases and wounds due to vascutic leg ulcers, which need daily medicines, care and cleanliness to avoid further infections. This is one of the reasons for his early retirement from the Department of Agriculture.
This arbitrary use of the ICCPR Act in Sri Lanka – which amounts to misuse of an Act designated to protect, not violate human rights – has created a chilling effect in the country where several people including writers and activists have been detained for peacefully expressing their opinions. Under the ICCPR, which Sri Lanka is legally bound to implement, the rights to freedom of expression and of thought, conscience and religion may only be restricted in narrow, clearly defined circumstances. Restrictions are only permissible if they are provided by law; placed for the purpose of protecting certain public interests (national security or public safety, public order, protection of public health or morals) or the rights and freedoms of others; and demonstrably necessary for that purpose. Merely implicit or even explicit criticism of a religion or other belief system cannot be criminalized as incitement.