Senior Minister of Urban Affairs, A.H.M. Fowzie has urged President Mahinda Rajapaksa to call for an investigation into the violence that erupted in Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga Town, in order to determine if it was a coup targetting the President.
Minister Fowzie had wanted to meet President Rajapaksa at the height of the clashes this week, but had been unable to do so as the President had been in Bolivia, when the incidents had taken place. The incidents may have been directed at the President, and it is therefore, of paramount importance that an investigation is carried out to determine whether it was directed at the Muslim community or the President himself, Fowzie had said.
Fowzie went on to say that the result of such a coup had resulted in a serious impact on tourism. There had been countries that had issued travel advisories, and a gradual decline in tourism was anticipated due to the large-scale publicity the clashes had received worldwide. It is imperative that the government finds out the aims of those involved, and it is also profound that the government investigates thoroughly the actions of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which had been instrumental in organizing the rally, he said. The government will also have to determine a course of action on preventing a repeat of such incidents, he also said. At a Cabinet meeting, senior ministers had discussed the importance of national unity and religious harmony.
The forces attempting to incite religious tensions in the country were in abundance worldwide, and the government would have to adapt measures to prevent such forces from creating further problems. It is also important that the government adapts measures to curtail funding of extremist groups in the country, Fowzie had pointed out.
Maithri takes on the Bodu bala sena
The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)
having built a reputation for having been very vocal against minority religions, has been categorized as a terrorist group by international organizations such as Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC).
TRAC had said they had assessed BBS on their statements, levels of intolerance towards other religions and other accusations of BBS members getting involved in acts of violence against churches, mosques and shops selling halal food.
The BBS had responded stating that other political groups such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), United National Party (UNP) and People’s Alliance (PA) had also been profiled as terrorist organizations by TRAC.
TRAC had responded that they recognized groups as potential or immediate threats, and once a group had been profiled it would continue to remain in the TRAC database for further study of their actions.
The most recent issue had been in relation to the cases filed against the BBS. The General Secretary of the BBS, Galagoda Aththe GnanasaraThera had been accused of verbally abusing Attorney-at-Law and Southern Provincial Councillor Maithri Gunaratne when he had been giving a voice cut to the media. Gunaratne said Gnanasara had said “mun ballo mun ballo” as he was travelling in the vehicle after the case.
Gunaratne is the attorney-at-law in all three cases currently taken up in Courts against the BBS. The first case referred to the forceful interference by Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera at a press conference conducted by the Jathika Bala Sena (JBS) at Nippon Hotel.
The second case concerns the alleged disparaging comments made by the Thowheed Jamathul and the third concerns the alleged denigrating comments made by the BBS themselves. Strangely, all three cases are being handled by Gunaratne.
Dilanthe Withanage, Chief Executive Officer of the BBS, speaking to Ceylon Today, said the BBS had no issue in relation to the retention of Maithri Gunaratne as the attorney for all three cases. However, he pointed out there was a possibility that a few underhand tricks were being played in assigning the same attorney as the lawyer for all three cases.
Gunaratne said there were no underhand tricks as alleged by the BBS. “If you look at it, none of the three parties are affiliated with each other. These people have come to me as clients, and they come to me because they think I am good. I have not compelled them to seek my services” he said.
Despite the acknowledgement of the parties, it had become apparent that much drama had ensued, in and outside of the Court premises, between the parties in the above mentioned cases. During the proceedings, Gunaratne had pointed out to the Judge that the BBS members had been permitted to sit outside of the dock. He had claimed that such instances were not normal when the parties concerned were relevant to the case.
The Judge had then responded to Gunaratne, stating that in his Court religious dignitaries were always treated in that manner. The Judge had claimed that monks ought not to be disrespected even if it were the Court premises. Gunaratne claimed to be puzzled at the time.
“It is imperative that the rule of law prevails in this country, especially in the Court premises. The rules of natural justice require that all persons be treated equally before the law,” Gunaratne had said. He had further pointed out that if such treatment was given to persons with a reputation like that of the BBS, it was likely that one day such groups would demand that the Judge steps down and obeys their commands.
In the aftermath of the Court hearing, Gunaratne was seen giving a voice cut to certain media stations when a different episode unraveled. Gunaratne claimed that Secretary General of BBS, when travelling in his vehicle, outside of the Court premises, with the shutters rolled down, had made some abusive remarks using derogatory words such as “mun ballo, mun ballo” (they are dogs, they are dogs).
Gunaratne had immediately taken steps to point out to the Court that such actions were demeaning to an administrator of the law in Court and that such actions were in contempt of Court.
During a press conference conducted by the BBS last week, Gnanasara Thera explained the circumstances under which the entire episode had taken place. “Soon after the case, when we got into the vehicle, we found out it was extremely hot as it had been subjected to the scorching heat of the sun. So we rolled our shutters down, and we were having a discussion,” he said.
He went on to explain that he had been in Korea just a few days back and had been explaining to the others in the vehicle that dogs were consumed as meat in Korea. He claimed he had made a further comment suggesting that there were persons who would not decline the meat of a dog even in Sri Lanka, and it was possible that Gunaratne had heard the words. However, he also claimed that he was completely oblivious to the presence of Gunaratne at the location, and his comments were not directed at him.
Gunaratne claimed that the courts were best equipped to decide as to whether the BBS was stating the actual circumstances or merely making excuses to escape the legal consequences. However, he also stated that he was prepared to accept and look beyond the incident if the Courts were to agree with the BBS reasoning.
Dilanthe Withanage made a further comment at the press conference to the effect “the comments were not directed at him, but if the shoe fits, you might as well wear it”. However, he had become more benevolent in discussing the case with Ceylon Today, and elaborated on an incident where he held discussions with a man by the name of Mohamed Niyas, who was affiliated to Watareka Vijitha Thera.
Withanage explained that soon after the case, Vijitha Thera had left the Court premises, leaving Niyas stranded and alone. Withanage who had observed this, had initiated a conversation with Niyas and explained to him that such situations were entirely unnecessary and sought to break the harmony between communities.
When Mohamed Niyas was contacted, a slightly different version was received. He explained that he had worked very closely on a project with Dilanthe Withanage in the year 2009 and that, due to the friendship they had shared earlier, they had had a conversation on 9 June where Withanage had said such communal discord needed to be avoided by handling such situations out of Court. When asked if Watareka Vijitha Thera had left him stranded at the Court premises, he responded that the vehicle expected to pick them up was getting delayed. Due to that, they had both agreed that VijithaThera would travel in a different vehicle while he would wait for the other. It was at that juncture that Withanage had approached him and offered to drop him home.
Despite Withanage’s benignant expression of wanting an out of Court settlement, he also expressed outrage at the gesture of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in regard to the complaint they had made to Attorney-General (AG) Palitha Fernando on 21 May this year.
The issue had sprouted after Maithri Gunaratne had submitted to Court a copy of the complaint’s letter to the AG, submitted by the President of the BASL, Upul Jayasuriya. In that letter, the BASL had raised three points primarily. The first point had shown concern over the incidents that ensued on 9 April at Nippon Hotel where Vijitha Thera had been conducting a press conference.
The second and third complaints referred to the certain comments made by the BBS, that were regarded by the BASL as derogatory and inciting religious hatred and causing communal disharmony. The BASL had claimed that the AG ought to take action against the BBS.
AG Palitha Fernando had said he had already responded to the BASL President, stating he would only be capable of taking action if the Police had recorded a statement from the complainant and avoided taking any action. He had also said the complaint essentially falls under the purview of IGP N.K. Illangakoon. In relation to the present situation, Dilanthe Withanage had said such a complaint should not have been submitted without any sufficient evidence. He said it was very unbecoming of an establishment such as the BASL to submit a complaint as such. “We are an organization that has been invited to countries such as Vietnam, Burma and Thailand on peaceful missions and we always carry a good message. The BASL should be a lot more responsible when submitting complaints against an organization reputed internationally like us,” he said.
He went on to question as to what action the BASL had taken against the Thowheed Jamath, which had also purportedly made disparaging remarks against Buddhism. He also questioned as to why the BASL had highlighted a few complaints alone without having taken any interest in several other cases being committed by the others. He further said the authority of the Court was being undermined by the BASL in making arbitrary statements and compelling action.
Maithri Gunaratne sprang to the defence of the BASL stating that the BBS had consistently made atrocious comments with blatant disregard for the law. He said the BBS was free to make their comments in accordance with Article 14 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. However, restrictions had been placed by Article 15 of the Constitution, and it was incumbent upon every Sri Lankan to adhere to the law of Sri Lanka.
He emphasized on the necessity to consider the fundamental duties set out in Article 28 of the Constitution. “One of the duties, according to Article 28 is to further the national interest and foster national unity, which BBS assumes they are not bound by,” he said.
He further said the BBS should have consulted the Venerable Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters prior to making any accusations against a responsible body such as the BASL. “If you consider the language of GnanasaraThera, it is very unbecoming of a monk. It is imperative that some kind of order be bestowed on this country before it is too late,” he said.
Meanwhile, the BASL decided to reiterate their stance following a meeting of their Executive Committee on 11 June, and claimed that the conduct of the BBS appeared to be in contravention of the law and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
Having stated, in the letter to the AG, that investigations had not been satisfactory thus far, the BASL explained there needed to be full and unbiased investigation in regard to the aforesaid complaints. They further called for full reports on the investigations and for a prosecution if the Court finds it satisfactory that certain persons are in contravention of law in relation to the incidents.