We, the undersigned would like to express our extreme distress and dismay at the incidents of harassment against Ms Sharmila Seyyid and her family through a variety of means including social media.
In November 2012, the Tamil Radio Service of the BBC interviewed Ms Sharmila Seyyid, a journalist and social worker from the Eastern Province. In response to a question from the BBC reporter, Ms Seyyid had voiced the opinion that sex workers may be better protected if prostitution was legalised. This drew a significant backlash from a section of the Muslim community in the area and elsewhere prompting her to issue a clarification, in which she emphasised that she was “…only highlighting a social reality and did not intend to defy Islamic tenets”. She also expressed “regret if she had unwittingly hurt anyone’s sentiments”.
The harassment and intimidation that began in the aftermath of the 2012 interview has resulted in her having to leave the country, and continues to this day, impacting other family members as well. An article reproduced in both the Sunday Observer and the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka on the 19th of April 2015 recorded several more recent truly horrifying actions against her on the internet and also recorded renewed calls by some to condemn her for insulting and offending Islamic teachings.
While we acknowledge that prostitution is prohibited in Islam (as in many other religions), we nevertheless uphold that Ms Seyyid is within her rights and freedoms to express her personal views; and condemn all forms of harassment, intimidation and hatred by vigilante groups and individuals that are justified based on claims to the above. While we acknowledge and respect that feelings may have been hurt and sensibilities offended, we also categorically state that defaming, harassing and inciting violence against a person for holding a different opinion, in this case a woman, is unacceptable and not within the spirit of the faith, and can also be deemed a contravention of the law. If people feel themselves to have been wronged, due process should be followed to seek redress.
This event highlights the critical need within the Muslim community, and also in the country at large, for developing processes to respond to critical issues, not through vilification, harassment or violence but through a process of dialogue that is in keeping with the law and norms of a democratic society and respectful of different faiths and ethics.
We urge the authorities to ensure that a thorough and fair investigation is conducted with regard to the complaints received by the aggrieved parties and hold those responsible for misconduct accountable. We also request that community religious leaders such as the Jamiathul Ulema take steps to halt the targeting of fellow Muslims based on spurious religious justifications. We also call upon all community leaders and civil society actors of the Muslim community to continue to play an active role in upholding the rights of every citizen.
Azra Abdul Cader
Fathima Razik Cader
Abdul Halik Azeez
Fathima Hasanah Cegu Isadeen, Lawyer
MBM Fairooz, Editor, Vidivelli Newspaper
Dr Farzana Haniffa
Prof Shahul H Hasbullah
MH Mohamed Hisham
Prof Qadri Ismail
Hamthun Jumana, Mullaitheevu Women Rehabilitation and Development Federation
Jensila Majeed, Women's Action Network
Juwairiya Mohideen, Muslim Women Development Trust
Mr ML Buhary Mohamed, Eastern Social Development Foundation
Zamruth Jahan Mufazlin, Lawyer
Mohamed SR Nisthar
Prof MA Nuhman
Rajabdeen Rashika, MWRDF
Prof Louiqa Raschid
Dr Romola Rasool
AS Mohamed Rayees
Shreen Saroor, Mannar Women's Development Federation
Hela Mohammed Zakariya, Women's Action Network
Faizun Zackariya, Citizens’ Voice for Justice and Peace
Dr LM Zubair, University of Peradeniya