By Z.L. Mohamed
Ramzy Razeek was arrested on 9 April at his home in Polgasdeniya, off Katugasota in Kandy by three officers from the CID. The next day, he was produced before the Colombo Magistrate where the CID claimed that he had violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Cyber Crimes Legislation. After a month, he remains remanded.
His arrest was precipitated by a Facebook post which advocated for an ‘ideological Jihad’ to arrest the sliding of justice and democracy around him. This post is ordinary unless one construes the word ‘Jihad’ to mean something other than a ‘struggle’, which is the sense in which he has posted. However, it brought on calls to violence against him and his family1. As a result, he announced that he was going silent on social media on 3 April2.
On the morning of 9 April, with the curfew on, Ramzy complained via online form to the Police about these threats. That afternoon, he was arrested by three CID officers. They took him away to Colombo informing his family that he would be released the next day. Instead the family has had no contact with him except for a one-minute phone call.
On seeing Ramzy’s debilitated medical condition, the Fort Magistrate directed that he be sent to the prison hospital or the General Hospital. However, he was remanded at the Pallansena prison in Negombo, supposedly as a quarantine facility. Here in a cell of approximately 20 x 40 feet he was remanded along with around 85 others with no beds. The lack of a bed and accessible toilet would have caused him severe difficulty . He remained there for 25 days, without his medicines or medical attention, before he was transferred to the Welikada Prison Hospital on 6 May.
Despite three court dates, the magistrate has not been able to pronounce on release on bail through delays brought on by the Police charging Ramzy under the ICCPR covenant. In the past, even without the delays from pandemic, release on bail of those charged under ICPPR took many months. Delays were compounded by the curfews imposed which prevented his relatives and friends in Kandy from organising his defence.
Ramzy is a private individual who is not well-known outside his area, his friends from school, in the government agencies that he had served for 25 years and with a few social service minded networks around Kandy. He obtained a diploma in translation with trilingual competence at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration in 1998 and was appointed as a trilingual Grade 1 translator at the Department of Agriculture in 2000. Thereafter he attended post-graduate programs at the Universities of Colombo and Peradeniya. He was registered as a sworn translator with the Ministry of Justice.
His mother, Latheefa Razeek, is a teacher who retired after long service in government schools. Ramzy is her eldest of four. She recounted what had happened and concerns without rancour despite the turmoil and mental strain this would have caused at her advanced age of 73.
Ramzy’s late father – was known as ‘Star Razeek’ – a journalist who freelanced for the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and the Lake House Group and had been active in social service activities.
Ramzy’s wife Sharmila, a primary teacher in Kandy, has had to endure his prolonged absence and nightmarish legal process with anguish over his wellbeing. She also must manage two school-going children who are traumatised by their father’s incarceration.
From childhood, Ramzy has been afflicted with arthritis and ulcers in his legs which led to incurable ulcers. He has been on medication for 35 years which has had side effects on his kidneys, liver and heart. When he was removed by the Police, he was due to undertake ultrasound tests as advised by a Rheumatologist and a Professor of Medicine in early April.
As Ramzy was often unable to sleep due to his ill-health and being confined due to mobility impairments, he turned to writing for regional newspapers and on social media. Independent writers who examined his Facebook postings found him advocating for justice focusing on the deterioration of democracy, warning about the rise of hate speech and the threats faced by Muslims lately. His posts do not veer to any hint of fomenting hatred. On the contrary, he has been promoting fair play, harmony and justice working with friends of all ethnicities.
He has been active in a variety of social service organisations – some of them secularly minded organisations such as the ‘Young Friends’, a collective of professionally oriented aging youth in Kandy. After mob violence raged in Kandy in March of 2018, ‘Young Friends’ was among the earliest to organise relief.
In his immediate neighbourhood, a dozen establishments had been looted or burned down including a building belonging to his uncle. Although complaints were filed, perpetrators named, and evidence collected, there has been no follow up still after two years by the police except for one arrest and quick release.
After the March 2018 Kandy mob violence, when visitors inquired about what had happened along Kurunegala road, it was Ramzy whom they were directed to. Thus when Prof. S.H. Hasbullah of the University of Peradeniya and I sought to visit the area then, we were both independently recommended to contact him.
Ramzy took us around – generous with his time paying little attention to his own comfort and health. He was kind and gentle in his interactions with the victims. Given their rapport and empathy with Ramzy, they extended their welcome to us. Even with the traumatised victims our conversations were open, thoughtful and bereft of rancour despite their profound losses.
Prof. Hasbullah’s significant life work has been on what happened among northern communities in the last three decades due to hate, violence, and its aftermath. He understood, more than anyone else, as to what may lie ahead in the south. In several conversations, he spoke of the need for forbearance, the need to build relationships across communities, warned against youth radicalisation and ghettoisation of Muslims. Ramzy was deeply engaged in these conversations.
Later, when Ramzy was requested to help a multi-ethnic team brainstorm to work together to promote harmony and inter-ethnic dialogue, he rode over on the pillion of a bike to Digana discounting his discomfort.
Ramzy’s seemingly ordinary life has been upended by a state apparatus which acts seemingly with selectivity and without fair play. As to why during a national emergency, the Police has prioritised its resources on arresting a disabled man who had already ceased his Facebook posts, with death threats against him, is yet to be understood. As to why they were piling on to the caseload of a courts systems that is in near-paralysis due the pandemic, is yet to be understood. As to why the authorities failed to follow the directions of court to provide to his medical needs and handicap is to be understood. As to why the Police are adding to the overcrowding of prisoners with high risk of contagion when there is even a mandate for citizens to take extreme action to reduce the risk of transmission is to be understood.
However, if the arrest is intended to encumber and burden and silence him and his ilk then they may be successful. Even if he was released now, the damage done to him and to our common human fabric shall remain grievous.
1D. Chandimal and R. Fernando, freedom-of-expression-vs-hate-speech-fake-and-misleading-news, Groundviews May 3, 2020, https://groundviews.org/2020/05/03/freedom-of-expression-vs-hate-speech-fake-and-misleading-news/
2D. Chandimal and R. Fernando, the-truth-about-the-arrest-and-detention-of-ramzy-razeek, Sri Lanka Brief, April 14, 2020, https://srilankabrief.org/2020/04/sri-lanka-the-truth-about-the-arrest-and-detention-of-ramzy-razeek/
(Some of Razeek’s family and friends contributed to this article.)