Calling for an end to communal politics and urging the authorties to expedite investigations into Muslim leaders standing accused in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings, Muslim parliamentarians supporting the United National Front (UNF)-led Government today (3) announced their resignation from all ministerial positions.
Speaking to journalists at Temple Trees, the MPs said they will vacate their positions of Cabinet Minister, Deputy Minister and State Minister to facilitate ongoing investigations into allegations made against Muslim political leaders in their ranks as well as to ensure peace and coexistence.
The MPs will, however, continue to provide conditional support to the Government as backbencher MPs, granted the culture of impunity for those propagating hate against Muslims is brought to an end, UNF MP Rauf Hakeem said, flanked by his colleagues in the Government which included MP Rishad Bathiudeen who is set to face a motion of no confidence brought against him by the Opposition.
“We request the Government to expedite any inquiries into those among us without delay. We expect this to happen within a month, so that we may be vindicated. If any of us is found guilty, we’re prepared to face whatever punishment necessary. But innocent Muslims are at the receiving end today; they have become victims,” he said.
Highlighting the Muslim community’s commitment to eradicating Islamist terrorism in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader said many of the Muslims now in police custody over suspected links to terrorism are innocent.
“We cooperated from the very first day to assist law enforcement agencies and the tri-forces to establish sanity in this country, to find the truth. Meanwhile, we have suffered heavy harassment at every turn. Several Muslims are languishing in jail on minor, trivial issues. We urge the Government to complete the inquiries properly and thoroughly so that this matter may be concluded,” said he said.
“This cannot continue. This peril our people are suffering must be brought to an end,” he said.
Hakeem also called for an end to the chauvinistic anger displayed towards ordinary Muslims.
“Hate speech and the culture of impunity that exists for those propagating it must be brought to an end. That is our earnest wish. If such a culture is brought back, we can take decisions thereafter. Until people’s security is assured and a thorough invesigations into allegations conducted, until we’re satifisied that the hate culture and culture of impunity is removed, only then we will be confident to be
serving in the Government,” he said.
Reiterating that he and his colleagues will ensure the “survival” of the Government as backbenchers, Hakeem warned that any support extended to the Government will depend on its actions.
“The Government’s survival will depend on their conduct,” he said.
MP and UNP Chairman Kabir Hashim, echoing similar sentiments, said: “We vacate our positions and give room to the security forces and the CID to carry these investigation within a month. If anyone is found to be connected, no matter how powerful, we have a duty to facilitate the law being exercised against them.”
Recalling that opposition to Islamist terrorism arose from within the Muslim community itself, Hashim said the first person to bring the National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) to the attention of the intelligence agencies and was shot by the organisation as a result was a Muslim. He also noted that the community is prepared to look inward and identify any causes of extremism among them.
“We have supported madrasa regulation, niqab etc. Our religious leaders didn’t even allow the terrorists to be buried with ceremony. Muslims themselves went and attacked an NTJ-linked mosque, because they despise them,” he said.
“Some are trying to paint this as a communal war. As Muslim MPs, even if we’re from various parties, we have think with a country-first attitude,” he said.
The crisis began on Friday when MP Athureliye Rathana Thero went on a hunger strike in Kandy demanding the removal of Governors Asath Salley and M L A M Hisbullah and Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, all of whom have been accused of having links to the NTJ.
By this morning shops were shuttered in Kandy and demonstrators led by the Galagodaaththe Gnansara Thero of the controversial Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) held protest marches in support of Rathana Thero.
By late afternoon Salley and Hisbullah tendered their resignations and the monk called off his fast.
Hisbullah in his resignation letter addressed to President Maithripala Sirisena said he has been informed that he should resign to ensure the safety of the Muslim community.