A Sri Lankan court has ordered the release on bail of a lawyer arrested over his alleged links to the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings and held for nearly two years on charges rights groups say lacked credible evidence.
Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested in April 2020 and accused of being linked to the attacks on churches and hotels that left 279 people dead.
But after prosecutors failed to provide evidence of his involvement in the attacks, blamed on a local group, he was instead charged with inciting “racial hatred” under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Monday’s decision comes just weeks before his case was due to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, according to diplomats.
Dozens of rights groups have campaigned for his freedom, and his detention has been highlighted by the European Parliament.
Local rights activist Bhavani Fonseka said news of Hizbullah’s impending release was “welcome”, but called for changes at the PTA, which had allowed his indefinite detention without trial.
“This should not distract from the need to repeal the PTA with a clear signal from the European Union and others that token reforms will not suffice,” Fonseka said on Twitter.
Hizbullah has made a name for himself as a vocal advocate of Sri Lanka’s minority Muslim community.
He earned the ire of the island nation’s ruling family after successfully challenging an effort to return former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to power during a constitutional crisis in 2018.
The following year, Mahinda was appointed prime minister after his younger brother Gotabaya won the presidential elections.