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Sri Lanka takes one year to remove poet’s ‘terrorist’ label since his acquittal

 

The Sri Lankan government has removed the name of poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem – widely known among Tamils as Mannaramudu Ahnaf – from the list of persons connected to terrorist activities, a year after he was cleared by court.

The government kept him designated as a terrorist for nearly two years, barring him from continuing with his career.

The Gazette Extraordinary No. 2387/02, issued by Defence Secretary and retired General Kamal Gunaratne on 25 May, 2024, includes the names of 210 persons and 15 organisations. This is down from 310 last year.

“The list of designated persons, groups, and entities published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 1854/41 of March 21, 2014, amended from time to time and last amended by the amendment to the list published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2335/16 of June 8, 2023, is hereby further amended by the repeal of the Schedules thereto and the substitution therefor of the following Schedules,” the gazette read.

The Gazette Extraordinary No. 2335/16, issued by the Defence Secretary on 8 June 2023, mentioned the names of 301 persons and 15 organisations.

Accordingly, the Defence Ministry has taken steps to remove the names of 91 persons, including Jazeem, from last year’s list of persons allegedly involved in terrorist activities.

Meanwhile, the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2291/02, issued by the Defence Secretary on 1 August, 2022, had mentioned 316 persons and 15 organisations. Jazeem’s name had been included in that list for the very first time.

Jazeem’s name had been included in the list of persons connected to terrorist activities, without providing any reason. In this context, he found himself in a situation where he could not find employment, and as a result, he had to get on with farming to make ends meet.

Jazeem was arrested on 16 May, 2020, at his home in Pandaraveli. In addition to the allegations concerning his 2017 poetry anthology titled Navarasam (நவரசம்). The poet was accused of exposing his students to ‘extremist’ teachings with the aim of guiding them to adopt ‘extremist ideologies.’ Disregarding mounting opposition by international human rights organisations, Jazeem was detained for 579 days under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Even though he was acquitted and released by court, his name remained in the list of persons connected to terrorist activities for over a year.

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