A criminal case filed after an attack on the morning of June 6, 2008 on a church (Malabe Calvary Christian Center) by a Buddhist fundamentalist mob including the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence of the Rajapaksa regime backed Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Secretary Galagoda-atte Gnanasara Thero was taken up recently in the Colombo High Court.
The way in which the case is progressing has caused serious concern at a seeming attempt to sweep the crimes of the mob under the carpet, when High Court judge Shiran Goonaratne urged the parties to arrive at a settlement of the case, which would prevent the possibility of a conviction of mob members, including the BBS Secretary. This was after one Roshan Henricus, an eye-witness had stated in the court, that he identified Galagoda-atte Gnanasara Thero and several others who were part of the extremist mob.
The witness also gave evidence that Galagoda-atte Gnanasara Thero, who led a mob of around 700 people, claimed that he has destroyed 22 churches. The centre had been attacked and damaged.
Judge Goonaratne urged the parties to settle, saying that it is better to settle this matter rather than to allow the case to proceed, since it is a case of a religious dispute and ordered the case to be taken up on August 1, 2013 for the matter to be settled. The lawyers for the State and the victims were advised by the judge that this case should be settled by then.
The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), is a Buddhist fundamentalist group that has been targeting minority (mainly Christian and Muslim) religious groups, on the basis that Sri Lanka is a ‘Sinhala Buddhist country’. The group receives State patronage through the powerful Defence Secretary (Gotabaya Rajapaksa), who is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The de facto Chief Justice Mohan Pieris was the legal adviser to the Defence Secretary. Pieris’ installation as de facto Chief Justice was made illegally with military force, amid protests from the legal profession and wide national and international condemnation. It is widely known that Pieris’ selection for the ‘job’ was aided by the Defence Secretary’s sponsorship. This connection between Pieris (a nominal Roman Catholic) and the regime has made it extra difficult for the system to serve justice to religious minorities.
Another attack by the BBS on Fashion Bug (a Muslim owned fashion and clothes business) of which Colombo Telegraph even published video footage was also hushed up, with great pressure being applied on the owner by the Rajapaksa regime. On that occasion it was Minister Faizer Musthapha (a nominal Muslim) who was sent by President Rajapaksa to personally pressure the owner, threatening that unless the case is settled, he would not be able to do any business in the country. The case was quickly settled and swept under the carpet without a single conviction despite all the evidence.
Issuing a press statement on Fashion Bug attack settlement, Lal Wijenayake, the Convener of the Lawyers for Democracy said “It is beyond our comprehension as to how the case was settled on the 1st day itself even before a proper plaint in respect of the offenses committed were filed. The offences committed by the attackers amounted to their being members of an unlawful assembly with the object of committing robbery, mischief, hurt, criminal trespass and many other criminal offences. This is fundamentally a violation of the basic principles of criminal procedure and is an attempt to cover-up a serious incident that has to be not only condemned but dealt with under our law. The outcome of this incident speaks the whole story as to who is behind these incidents and who are the protectors of criminals involved in bringing fear into the lives of innocent citizens and enjoying for themselves the patronage and protection which only the state can provide. This incident is a clear demonstration of the pathetic state of the rule of law in our country and the state of human rights in practice. This whole episode no doubt will disturb the conscience of all law abiding citizens of this country. ”
The Colombo Telegraph is also able to report that there have also been instances of violent attacks on Christian groups/places in the south of Sri Lanka, led by Thusitha Ranawaka, a close relative of President Rajapaksa which never resulted in any prosecution or conviction of the perpetrators. The Colombo Telegraph is reliably informed that he and his extremist allies had openly vowed to shut down Christian churches from functioning in the south.
The advice of Judge Goonaratne comes, at a time when hundreds of religious places of Muslims and Christians have been attacked by BBS with total impunity. A highly placed source told Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity, that If this case is settled as urged by the judge, it would do little to inspire confidence in religious minorities that the judiciary will protect their rights despite pressures from the ruling regime.