Who is Ahnaf and why is he detained?
Ahnaf Jazeem of Silavathurai, Mannar, Sri Lanka, is a 25-year-old teacher and poet who writes as Mannaaramudhu Ahnaf. In May 2020, Ahnaf was arrested for his book of poems, “நவரசம்,” Navarasam, written in Tamil and published in 2017, and has been imprisoned ever since.
Ahnaf is detained by order of the Terrorism Investigations Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka Police, under sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1979 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007. If found guilty, Ahnaf could be imprisoned for up to 20 years under the PTA or up to 10 years under the ICCPR Act; he is currently being held indefinitely in detention without trial and with only limited access to representation. (See below for updates from Ahnaf’s lawyers.)
The allegation against Ahnaf, as well as accompanying disinformation and misrepresentation in the media, is the accusation that the book Navarasam is an “extremist text”. Since Ahnaf’s arrest is part of the “investigation” into the Easter Sunday bombings, the insinuation is that this book is in some way material used for the indoctrination of students.
After Ahnaf’s arrest, the magistrate had the book translated in a rush by sworn translators working for the court, which resulted in an extremely literal translation. Even more absurdly, the court then sent this to child psychiatrists at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children for them to report on whether this text could influence children towards “extremism.” This psychiatrist’s report is available in this document on pages 447-451 as numbered in the court document, or starting at page 167 in the PDF, or attached to the tweets here.
What is this website?
Ahnaf has legal representation since December 2020. The full text of his book is now online. This website is a collaborative project to translate it to counter the disinformation. Additional translations are available in this document. We hope to bring those translations onto this site soon as well, for ease of access.
What’s happening with Ahnaf’s case?
May 16: 13 organizations including PEN, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Article 19, the International Truth and Justice Project, and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka issue a joint statement calling for Ahnaf’s release.
The book’s title, Navarasam, refers to the nine expressions of emotion, or nine emotions as expressed in Tamil art forms, specifically facial and physical expressions in Barathanatyam.
- அற்புதம் | Wonder/Awe
- ஹாஸ்யம் (நகை) | Amusement/Laughter
- ஆடு அவன் ஆடவன்
- பெப்ரவரி – 14
- காதலன் – கணவன்
- வீரம் | Bravery
- இடியும் இமையம் | The Thundering Himalayas
- சாந்தம் | Peace/Serenity
- ஏகாந்த இருள்
- ரௌத்திரம் | Anger
- சிருங்காரம் (சிங்காரம்) | Bashfulness/Shyness
- சீ….! நீ…!
- சீயங்களின் சீவியம்
- பொல்லா அறம்
- பயம் | Fear
- குற்சை (இழிவரல்) | Revulsion
- கருணை | Mercy
In the media
- Young journos reach out to the HRCSL to intervene in the arbitrary arrest of young poet (English, MediaLK, Dec 10 2020)
- Poetic injustice: Another writer languishes in prison under PTA (English, Daily FT, Dec 14 2020)
- Sri Lankan government detains young Muslim poet on bogus charges (English, WSWS.org, Dec 20 2020)
- இலங்கை அரசாங்கம் போலி குற்றச்சாட்டில் இளம் முஸ்லிம் கவிஞரை தடுத்து வைத்திருக்கிறது (Tamil, WSWS.org, Dec 24 2020)
- FR to be filed over poet detained under PTA (English, Ceylon Today, Dec 25 2020)
- Complaint Lodged With HRCSL Over Poet Ahnaf Jazeem Detained Under PTA (English, Colombo Telegraph, Dec 31 2020)
- දෙමළෙන් ලියූ වරදට හිරේ ගිය කවියා (Sinhala, anidda.lk, Jan 4 2021)
- Arrest of Mannar poet under PTA: Academics, writers and activists cry foul (English, Daily FT, Jan 6 2021)
- The Mannar Poet Behind Bars (English, Daily Mirror, Jan 7 2021)
- Suppression of ideas as part of the New Normal: Young poet Ahnaf Jazeem awaits justice (English, Daily Mirror, Jan 12 2021)
- ශ්රී ලංකාවේ ආන්ඩුව ව්යාජ චෝදනා මත තරුන මුස්ලිම් කවියකු සිරගත කරයි (Sinhala, WSWS.org, Jan 20 2021)
- Sri Lanka courts join hands with police to make Muslim poet an ‘ISIS extremist’ (English, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, Apr 27 2021)
- The Arrest of a Poet (English, The Morning, Apr 29 2021)
- The Silenced Poet (English, The Morning, May 14 2021)
- Sri Lanka – Joint statement calls for immediate release of poet detained for a year without charge (English, PEN International, Amnesty International, The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, The International Working Group on Sri Lanka, International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka, The Center for Justice and Accountability, Australian Centre for International Justice, Article 19, Human Rights Watch, IMADR, PEARL, Freemuse, May 16 2021)
- SAHR expresses concern over the year-long detention of poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem (English, South Asians for Human Rights, May 18 2021)
- ‘Freeing’ the freedom of expression and Ahnaf Jazeem (English, The Morning, May 24 2021)
- Arrested poet Ahnaf Jazeem mistreated by TID: Lawyers (English, The Morning, May 31 2021)
- Using literary interpretation as a tool of incarceration (English, The Morning, Jun 2 2021)
- European Parliament Alarmed over Sri Lanka’s Rights Situation (English, Human Rights Watch, June 10 2021)
- European human rights ambassadors call on Sri Lanka to release detained poet (English, Tamil Guardian, Jun 13 2021)
- Poet produced in court without lawyer (English, The Morning, Jun 14 2021)
- Weaponising psychiatry to stifle expression (English, The Morning, Jul 13 2021)