Easter Attacks: Church calls off protests but will the victims get justice?
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church has called off its month-long protest campaign to demand justice for the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks by Muslim extremists which killed nearly 270 people and plunged the country into a serious economic and political crisis.
Several weeks ago the Church asked the congregants to pray for Justice for the victims and last Sunday the faithful were asked to attend services dressed in Black a colour they wear only for funerals.
Normally the faithful will attend church dressed in their “Sunday best” and share a festive meal with their families, but the pain they have suffered in the Easter attacks and the callous indifference of successive governments over the horrific suicide blasts has motivated them to mourn publicly.
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who openly endorsed Rajapaksa administrations in the past led these protests and voiced his own frustrations at the inactions of the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to bring justice to the Catholic community.
However, earlier in the week the Bishops Conference was presented with the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the blasts which they accepted.
Catholics have been urged to continue to recite a special prayer for Justice.
Cardinal Ranjith partial to the Rajapaksas
Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, has shown a distinct partiality to the Rajapaksa family and has exhorted his flock to accept life “under the Buddhist tent.”
Rajapaksa announced his candidature days after the Easter blasts, promising that “National Security” would be a priority. Be it by fortune or design, he found the best mood for the launch of his campaign.
Rajapaksa promised the Catholics justice leading them to wholeheartedly support his candidature.
A nation horrified that a new beast had entered their homes ten years after Vellupillai Prabhakaran had died in the Eastern Sands, rushed to follow this new pennant.
The shambolic and dysfunctional “Yahapalanaya” government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is certainly to be blamed for its lax attitude where proper actions were not taken even after intelligence from Indian agencies described the date, the form and the targets of the Easter attacks weeks before they occurred.
When the Supreme Court ruled against Sirisena’s Constitutional coup in October 2018, restoring Ranil Wickremesinghe back to the post of Prime Minister, the former did not convene the National Security Council for months.
Sirisena was also away from the country even though he had been informed, as witnesses say of the imminent attack. What’s more, despite being the President of the country, and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he failed to immediately return to the country, when the country faced a national emergency.
The Commission wants action against President Sirisena
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the blasts recommends that the former President be held responsible and legal action taken against him.
It faults Wickremesinghe for his attitude, but does not recommend punitive action against him, though I believe, he too must share the blame.
If he was not being briefed by the Intelligence Agencies, then he should have informed Parliament. His distant and unfeeling attitude towards his serious responsibilities should consign him to the bins of history.
Also, the behaviour of his Cabinet Ministers who addressed a Press Conference the morning after, gleefully placing the blame on Sirisena for the tragedy as a shaken nation mourned, was shocking beyond belief.
Former Army Commander and current Samagi Jana Balavegaya Member of Parliament, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka made a key speech during last week’s debate in Parliament on the Easter Sunday massacre.
In his speech, Fonseka stated he disagrees with some members of the government who state that since Zaharan Hashim, the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaat which carried out the attacks is dead, the “chapter should be closed.”
But the government’s own Minister for Public Security, Retired Admiral Sarath Weerasekere is claiming that the mastermind behind the strikes was Maulvi Naufer, a Qatar-based Islamic teacher.
What is beyond doubt is that Zaharan and several of his operatives were on the government payroll, as Intelligence Agents after the LTTE conflict ended. Fonseka is one among others who have pointed out that these persons had been recruited to the undercover operative ranks of the previous Rajapaksa administration, after the elimination of the Tamil Tigers.
The Co-Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have admitted that these men were on the Intelligence payrolls.
Prof Rajan Hoole in his book “When the Deep State Gets out of its Depth” published shortly after the Easter attacks, meticulously documents the numerous times Zaharan and others were arrested by Police and produced before Magistrates only to be released time and time again.
Fonseka also revealed details of Zaharan’s travels between 2013 and 2016, before the Sirisena administration took office, where he is alleged to have gone to Syria and established contacts with the Islamic State.
Did the former Rajapaksa regime foster extremists on both sides?
Political Analyst Gamini Viyangoda writing in the Anidda Newspaper this week asks the question of whether the previous Rajapaksa administration actively fostered the Muslim extremist groups such as Zaharan’s as well as Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) led by Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero.
He theorizes that “fostering both Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists on the one hand and a reactive Muslim extremism on the other was the secret policy of the previous Rajapaksa administration.”
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry recommends that action be taken against the BBS for fostering a culture of communal hate enabling the growth of Islamic extremism.
Muslim leaders such as Hilmy Ahamed of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council have long held the belief that the current government’s irrational insistence on the enforced cremation of the remains of Muslims who perish of the Covid 19 virus was designed to push the youth of the community towards extremist violence.
“We are asking the Maulvis (Clerics) preaching in the mosques on Fridays to continue to exhort the youth not to take to violence but to continue to pray. They must understand that the government wants them to take to extreme measures,” he told EconomyNext.
Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabry, the most prominent Muslim Member of the government, has also warned of the rise of extremism over the burial issue.
The government continued to ignore World Health Organisation guidelines as well as a special Expert Committee tasked with making recommendations about burials and cremations and persisted with the practice of burning the bodies.
Pressure from the UNHRC
That changed just about a week ago, in the face of UNHRC targeted sanctions, which if passed could affect many high ranking officials in the country.
Cremation is abhorrent to all those who follow the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam who frequently pray “save us from the fires of Hell.”
The policy was changed in Sri Lanka after Muslim countries around the world baulked at opposing a resolution against Sri Lanka being proposed at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) currently ongoing in Geneva if the cremation policy remained unchanged.
On the first days of submissions earlier this month the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) spoke strongly against cremation and placed Sri Lanka’s Muslims alongside oppressed Islamic communities in countries such as Palestine.
The resolution championed by European and North American states and unchallenged by India and some Asian countries will enforce targeted sanctions against key personalities in Sri Lanka, but does not seek to punish the country as a whole.
Sri Lanka will need the Muslim countries’ support to prevent the resolution from going through.
President Rajapaksa will not be able to implement the recommendations
But the Gotabaya administration will find it difficult to act on the recommendations of the Presidential Commission.
It is certainly not in a position to take any action against Sirisena, as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by the former President holds 14 seats in Parliament and may well withdraw support from the ruling Nidahas Podujana Peramuna coalition if such action is taken.
So, to further prolong acting on the recommendations, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed six members from his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna to review the commission’s report. Various government Ministers too are urging further investigations into the attacks.
Catholic Human Rights activist Ruki Fernando in a column published on our website bemoans the lack of justice for the many victims of state terror, ranging from Ahimsa Wickrematunga daughter of slain journalist Lasantha to those who died in the Navaly Church bombing decades ago. He also questions why when the Colombo Archdiocese took no action over the Navaly church bombing, several missing clergy and other attacks which involved Catholics, the Cardinal has chosen to protest the Easter Sunday massacre.
Sri Lanka has become notorious for appointing Presidential Commissions, raising the hopes of victims, only to dash them all, when the reports are shelved to gather dust. When aggrieved victims then seek external assistance, they are labelled anti-patriotic.
It looks like Cardinal Ranjith’s quest too may end up on the same heap of scrap but how will he face his faithful flock? (Colombo, March 12, 2021)
By Arjuna Ranawana