by Shamindra Ferdinando
Joint Opposition yesterday said that SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem’s recent allegation that the Sinhala extremists had set fire to a Muslim-owned tea factory on the Nawalapitiya-Hapugasthalawa road on the night of June 9 should be investigated in the wake of the owner publicly denouncing the minister’s claim.
JO MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage yesterday told The Island that they expected the police to verify Minister Hakeem’s accusation that a powerful person had thwarted police investigations into ongoing attacks on the Muslim community.
Addressing a public rally in Kandy last Saturday, Minister Hakeem alleged that certain organisations were seeking to cause chaos in the country.
Kandy District MP Aluthgamage said that having seen Minister Hakeem on television making unsubstantiated allegations in respect of Nawalapitya
incident, he had visited the scene of fire the following morning. MP Aluthgamage quoted one of the tea factory proprietors Razeek Hadjiar as having told him at the scene of the incident that it had been caused by an electrical short circuit. Hadjiar told the media there that over 90 per cent of the factory workforce were Sinhalese and there were absolutely no basis for Minister Hakeem’s claim.
Minister Hakeem didn’t respond to The Island queries sent to him on Monday and Tuesday. Minister Hakeem’s media spokesperson Abdul Hafiz, too, didn’t respond to our query.
MP Aluthgamage said that he had phoned Minister Hakeem in the presence of Hadjiar brothers to inquire about the accusation. In fact, Razeek Hajiar, too, had raised it with Minister Hakeem over the phone and told the SLMC leader Nawalapitiya fire was an accident, MP Aluthgamage said.
MP Aluthgamage and Hajiar quoted Minister Hakeem as having said that he had repeated information received from a person known to him.
MP Aluthgamage urged the government and the police to identify Minister Hakeem’s source without further delay and take appropriate measures against those propagating lies.
The SLFPer asserted that the Hajiar brothers had averted a major flare up by swiftly contradicting Minister Hakeem’s provocative claim. MP Aluthgamage appreciated Nawalapitiya based Muslim clerics taking immediate measures to reassure their community in the wake of the Nawalapitiya fire. The Muslims of Nawalapitiya acted with a sense of responsibility, MP Aluthgamage said, alleging that a vile attempt was being made to aggravate the situation.
Aluthgamage said that the furore over the Nawalapitiya fire should be examined against the backdrop of a spate of allegations directed against the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) over attacks on Muslim-owned business establishments.
Police spokesperson DIG Priyantha Jayakody told the media at the Information Department last Sunday that three Sinhalese and one Muslim had been arrested so far in connection with ongoing investigations into what he called extremist attacks. DIG Jayakody identified the Sinhala suspect as a BBS activist who had been frequent to BBS office and participant at events organized by the group. According to the police official since April, 2017, 16 incidents had been under investigation and four police teams were looking for BBS leader Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara.
MP Aluthgamage said that the JO would step up pressure on the SLMC and the government until the police inquired into Minister Hakeem’s controversial statement. The MP recalled recent government declarations that the police would act decisively and swiftly to thwart attempts meant to provoke people.
The SLFPer recalled IGP Pujitha Jayasundera recently alleging various incidents being categorised as extremist attacks by interested parties. The SLMC being a constituent of the ruling coalition shouldn’t be an excuse to turn a blind eye to Minister Hakeem’s claim.