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Friday December 9th, 2022

Justice for Easter Sunday and Justice for Hejaaz: A Christian perspective

MOURNING FOR EASTER VICTIMS – Worshippers at St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya on July 1st when the Church reopened after the Easter bombings/Pathum Dhananajana EconomyNext

Most of the victims of horrific Easter Sunday bombings were Christian, majority killed inside three churches, and the bombers were Muslims. Immediately after the attacks, many Muslims unreservedly condemned the attacks and offered support and solidarity to mostly Christian survivors and families of victims. As churches across the country closed in the aftermath of the bombings, at least one Mosque offered to host Christian prayer services. Several years before the bombings, Muslims had protested and informed government authorities about growing extremism and tendencies towards violence amongst few within their community, including of the alleged ring-leader[i].

But after the Easter Sunday attacks, Muslims faced hostility, discrimination and physical attacks on places of worship, houses and businesses. One person was killed in reprisal attacks[ii]. Even refugees and asylum seekers from other countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, who had fled persecution by Muslim extremists and were residing temporarily in Sri Lanka, were perceived as Muslims supporting terrorism and subjected to reprisals[iii]. Easter bombings gave a new lease of life to anti-Muslim sentiments, hostilities, discrimination and violence that had preceded Easter Sunday attacks[iv]. This ant-Muslim sentiment has further escalated during COVID19[v].

The multi-party parliamentary select committee that probed the Easter bombings held many hearings last year. The findings in the report released in October 2019 indicates senior officials and senior politicians may not have taken preventive actions[vi]. What follow up has been done by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors is not clear.

The arrest of Hejaaz Hizbullah and other suspects for Easter Sunday bombings

As the anniversary of the bombings approached, and with parliamentary elections looming, there was a fresh wave of arrests in relation to Easter bombings. On 15th April this year, police announced 197 suspects had been arrested[vii]. Some have been detained for around a year without being formally charged. Amongst those arrested in April this year was Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer, who had been involved in work towards ethnic harmony, democracy and social work. He and his siblings had studied in Christian schools, had many Christian friends and the family had regularly helped in festivities of a Catholic church close to their house. The family had also admitted Christian refugee children to the school they owned on concessionary terms and a charity that Hejaaz was part of had helped a Catholic organization supporting the urban poor. Hejaaz had been invited and joined Church led initiatives towards inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, where he had spoken critically about extremist tendencies amongst some Muslims.

Hejaaz’s immediate reactions to the bombings, was to tweet “They are not one of us. Those responsible must be found and prosecuted and the law applied to the fullest extent”[viii]. Two days later, he tweeted that “anti-Muslim hate in #lka (Sri Lanka) had contributed to radicalize young Muslims but does not justify violence”[ix].

Hejaaz’s arrest has been widely condemned for being arbitrary and without due process[x], which is probably the same for many others arrested in relation to Easter bombings and PTA. According to Hejaaz’s family members and junior lawyers, arresting officers had called ahead saying they were health officials and had breached lawyer-client confidentiality by accessing files of Hejaaz’s clients[xi]. He is reported to have been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), but the 72 hour timeframe to serve a detention order or produce him before a magistrate was violated. After a month, he has not been produced before a Magistrate, which violates the Sri Lankan Supreme Court’s directives, according to a letter to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, signed by 185 lawyers. [xii].The habeas corpus application filed in his case, seems to be in limbo and the fundamental rights petition is still at initial stages. Hejaaz has been denied meaningful access to his lawyers, which is absolutely essential for a fair trial, except for short periods in presence of police officers. I’ve seen several statements by police about his arrest to the media, but nothing has indicated he was involved in the bombings. Recently, his family members were compelled to protest against a vicious media campaign propagating false information[xiii].

After Hejaaz’s arrest, three children aged 11, 13 and 16 years are reported to have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court, alleging that they were forcibly taken by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police to an undisclosed location. They were not accompanied by guardians and no arrest note or information had been provided to the guardians about where the children were taken[xiv]. The children allege that they had been shown photographs and threatened to admit persons in the photograph had preached extremist and violent ideas in the school they had received scholarships to study. The children had also been asked whether they had received weapons training, which they had denied. They were videoed and asked to place their signatures on documents that they could not read. All three boys are from poor families and the school they had received scholarships to study was funded by a charity of which Hejaaz is a trustee. There have also been media reports that the children have been threatened to withdraw the petitions they had made to the Supreme Court[xv].

Terror of the PTA  

Until the Easter bombings, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has been used mostly to arrest and detain Tamils, in context of the government’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It was also used against government critics, including journalists and rights activists and church workers. The PTA has led to arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention without charges, long drawn out court cases, multiple cases against one suspect, inhumane detention conditions, torture and long years to release suspects and accused who are not guilty. There are reports about a PTA detainee spending 15 years in prison before being formally charged and 20 years for case to be concluded[xvi]. There have also been reports about PTA detainees being acquitted as not guilty by courts after spending long years in prison, including 15 years in one case[xvii].

Unlike in trials related to many other crimes, confessions in police custody are allowed in PTA cases, despite the tendency to obtain forced confessions through torture or threat of torture[xviii], which has also made PTA trials longer. Many Tamil detainees have been forced to sign confessions written in Sinhalese, a language they didn’t understand[xix]. For those arrested under the PTA, the process is punishment.

Pursuing justice through due process, rule of law and with dignity and rights for all 

Jesus was crucified through a populist and unfair trial, based on false accusations and after being subjected to torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. One of Jesus’s apostles, Paul, was detained for several years based on false accusations, was flogged while in detention, but his captors had regularly produced him before several judges allowing him to be heard.

According Pope John Paul II, “safeguarding the rights of accused against summary trials and convictions are principles that are primarily rooted in value of the person and moral demands of functioning states” and “when these principles are not observed, the very basis of political coexistence is weakened and the life of society itself is gradually jeopardized, threatened and doomed to decay”[xx]. Pope Francis has insisted that “to speak of human rights means above all to restate the centrality of the human person, willed and created by God in his image and likeness”[xxi].

Struggling for justice is an integral and not an optional part of Christian faith. It is a sacred Christian duty to promote and protect rights and dignity of survivors, victim families and others affected by violent incidents, including horrific attacks on churches such as on Navaly and Allaipiddy Catholic churches in the Jaffna district in 1995 and 2006 and the Easter bombings last year.

But as Christians, we also need to promote and protect rights and dignity of suspects and accused, such as Hejaaz. Especially in the painful historical context that many PTA detainees end up being found not guilty by courts and that theirs and their families lives are ruined, by having to spent most of their youth behind bars, their mental and physical well-being severely affected due to long term detention in inhumane conditions and torture. And we must never justify or tolerate attempts to abandon due process, rule of law and resort to arbitrariness in the pursuit of justice.

Rights of survivors, victim families and affected communities and the broader cause of justice for everyone, is strengthened and becomes meaningful only when rights of suspects and accused are respected, and justice is obtained through a due process that respects rule of law and devoid of arbitrariness.

After the Easter bombings, the politically and socially influential Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith played important roles in providing support and care for those injured and families of the dead, demanding for justice and appealing to all Sri Lankans, especially Catholics, to be restrained and not to retaliate against innocents. A year later, as hostilities against Muslims continues and justice for Easter Sunday is threatened by resort to arbitrary actions such as against Hejaaz, the Cardinal, all Christian leaders and communities must insist that seeking truth and justice must be within the framework of rule of law. That is what will ensure the integrity of our faith as Christians, our humanity and democracy. There must be justice for Easter Sunday, but there must also be justice for Hejaaz and others subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and other forms of violence, harassments and discrimination in the aftermath of Easter bombings.

* Ruki Fernando is a Catholic human rights activist working with various Christian and secular rights groups. He is a member of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and was member of the Chaplaincy team of International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) – Asia Pacific.

[i]

Comments (3)

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  1. Justice is up to the Lord. No discrimination please

  2. Faizel says:

    What a brilliant , well researched and balanced article.l by and Fernando. The actions of the authorities appears to be a vindictive action to silence a brilliant lawyer in the forefront of sensitive civil and constitutional cases opposed to the current administration.

    In Muslim civil society Hejaaz is the face and voice of moderation; the balance that is required to build a cohesive multi- ethnic community with a Sri Lankan identity. Clearly not an agenda or goal of this administration as can be seen from the virulent anti Muslim rhetoric condoned ( if not encouraged) by the Administration in the media.

    We need more people from the Catholic Church, including the Cardinal and his old school to stand up for justice for Hejaaz. The Govt has lost the moral ground and it’s sad to see that they are attempting to pervert justice by coercing confessions from innocent children.
    This is time for us to stand up and be counted.

  3. charles+horenegae says:

    The bottom-line is justice must prevail.

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Comments (3)

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Justice is up to the Lord. No discrimination please

  2. Faizel says:

    What a brilliant , well researched and balanced article.l by and Fernando. The actions of the authorities appears to be a vindictive action to silence a brilliant lawyer in the forefront of sensitive civil and constitutional cases opposed to the current administration.

    In Muslim civil society Hejaaz is the face and voice of moderation; the balance that is required to build a cohesive multi- ethnic community with a Sri Lankan identity. Clearly not an agenda or goal of this administration as can be seen from the virulent anti Muslim rhetoric condoned ( if not encouraged) by the Administration in the media.

    We need more people from the Catholic Church, including the Cardinal and his old school to stand up for justice for Hejaaz. The Govt has lost the moral ground and it’s sad to see that they are attempting to pervert justice by coercing confessions from innocent children.
    This is time for us to stand up and be counted.

  3. charles+horenegae says:

    The bottom-line is justice must prevail.

Sri Lanka bond yields end higher, kerb dollar Rs370/371

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka bonds yields ended up and the T-bills eased on active trade on Friday, dealers said.

The US dollar was 370/371 rupees in the kerb.

“The bond rates went up, however more interest was seen in the short term bills by the investors” dealers said.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2024 closed at 31.90/32.20 percent on Friday, up from 31.25/70 percent at Thursday’s close.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 30.30/31.30 percent steady from 30.30/31.00 percent.

The three-month T-bills closed at 30.75/31.30 percent, down from 32.00/32.25 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions was at 363.18 rupees against the US dollar unchanged.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 371.78 and 372.00 for small transactions, data showed.

Buying rates are between 361.78 – 362.00 rupees. (Colombo/Dec 09/2022)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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India smogs out Sri Lanka’s China tower observers

 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built Lotus Tower has halved visitors to its observation deck an official said as dirty air flowing from India triggered air quality warnings and schools in the capital closed.

“Masks are mandatory at the observation deck and roughly around 50 to 60 can go up to the observation deck at a time, time limits have not been altered and still persists at 20 minutes for observation,” the official told EconomyNext.

Prior to the smog, 120 observers were permitted at once to the deck.

However, even after limitations the Lotus Tower has continued to draw visitors, and revenues are coming in, the official said.

The tower built with a Chinese loan by the cash rich Telecom Regulatory Commission has been described by critics as a white elephant that eats the money earned from telecom operators mainly as spectrum fees.

Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said India air heavily polluted with particulate matter was flowing across the island into a depression in the South West Bengal Bay. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

 

 

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