By Laksiri Fernando –
On 15 and 16 of November, two consecutive days, Rev. Fr. Cyril Gamini was asked to come to the Central Intelligence Department (CID) and has been questioned for almost eight to nine hours each day, from 9.00am to 5.00 or 6.00pm. On the second day, in the afternoon, he has been asked to come on the next day, and it was on his request, or protest, that the statement taking was completed on the same day.
Otherwise he was forced to come another day. As he clearly expressed to the media after coming back from the CID, he has strongly felt that he has been harassed by the CID by dragging on the so-called investigation, questioning, and statement taking for no valid reason. A victim has been converted to a ‘perpetrator’ by the Sri Lanka’s intelligence system.
Who Are the Victims?
The whole world knows what happened in Sri Lanka on the Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019. Apart from three luxury hotels in Colombo (Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and Shangri-La), three churches (St. Anthony’s, Colombo; St. Sebastian’s, Katunayake; and Zion Church, Batticaloa) were attacked through suicide bombers.
Later that day, another two bomb explosions took place at a house in Dematagoda and the Tropical Inn Lodge in Dehiwala. A total of 269 people, excluding the eight suicide bombers, were killed in the events, including about 45 foreign nationals, while at least 500 were seriously injured.
All eight suicide bombers in the attacks were identified as Sri Lankan citizens associated with the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) organization founded by the suicide bomber at Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zaharan alias Zaharan Hashim. This is what revealed or said by the investigators and the intelligence services.
The victims included not only those who were killed or injured, but also the families, the Catholic Church, the priests and the devotees. This is the reality. If anyone cannot understand this reality is either ignorant or apparently complicit with the attackers, or the tragedy, to my opinion.
There are still so much of mysteries and unknowns associated with the incidents. First there are questions about the attack, and the organization behind it.
(1) Why did they attack the Churches and hotels? There is no apparent connection between the two. (2) There had been no evident conflict between the Muslims and the Catholics in Sri Lanka. Both are minorities facing similar marginalization. (3) Zaharan Hashim, the alleged leader, attacked a hotel and not a Church. Is it possible that two groups operated within the operations? This is a question, not a conclusion. (4) Zaharan was mainly an extremist ideologue, and a preacher. The technological knowhow and planning apparently had come from other sources. (5) Had Zaharan been the actual leader of the Easter carnage? Given the later revealed bigger network of operations, it is it difficult to believe that the Leader would commit suicide at the first attack.
Then there are questions about the CID, the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), the State Intelligence Service (SIS), the Military Intelligence Division, the Police, the Ministry of Defense, the National Security Council; and the then Prime Minister, and the President.
(1) According to what is revealed, Zaharan and his organization NTJ have been in operation at least since 2014. What has the security organizations been doing since then? Why so much of apathy and indifference shown on this terrorist organization? (2) It is very clear that the rise of Jihadism in Sri Lanka was a consequence of anti-Muslim riots in June 2014 and other activities, instigated by some extremist Buddhist organizations such as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Ravana Balaya. These organizations should have been banned or curtailed, identified as potential terrorist outfits. No such actions taken.
Most importantly, as very clearly revealed in the inquiries of the Parliamentary Select Committee and the Presidential Commission, the whole of the Security Apparatus had failed to act on the ‘Early Warnings’ received from India and other countries. In such a situation, it is quite obnoxious for the CID to harass Fr Cyril Gamini on the instigation of the Head of the State Security Service (SIS), Major General Suresh Sallay.
Complaint Against Fr Gamini!
As far as I can gather, Fr Cyril Gamini at present is the Pastor at St. Annes’s Catholic Church at Kurana, Negombo, and also the Director of the National Catholic Center for Social Communications (NCCSC). He has also often acted as the spokesperson for Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Bishop of Colombo of the Catholic Church.
In these capacities, Fr Gamini has every right to express his views on these disastrous events; those people who are possibly directly or indirectly involved in the attacks, and call for justice on behalf of the victims and the Church. Of course, as anyone else, he should refrain from baseless accusations, or expressing misleading information knowingly.
I came to know Fr Gamini first in 1996 in my capacity as the Director of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), and more closely during my tenure as the Director of the Peace Building Project, Ministry of Constitutional Affairs (2002-2005). He is a well-respected, modest and a committed person for social justice, peace and human rights. I have had no contact with him thereafter and this opinion is completely independent.
Fr Gamini must have involved in many discussions with many, mainly Church people, in Sri Lanka and abroad on the questions of Easter Attacks, the unfortunate fate of the victims, and apparent absence of proper justice even after three years. The zoom discussion in question had taken place on 23 October 2021.
Unfortunately, it is the Director of the State Intelligence Service, Major General Suresh Sally, who has made the complaint against Fr Cyril Gamini to the CID! According to various newspaper reports, there appear two main complaints. (1) Because of the alleged statement by Fr Gamini, it was claimed that the lives of the Major General and his family have been threatened. Accordingly, in this case, the ‘victim’ is a Major General and the ‘perpetrator’ is an innocent Christian Priest. This is hilarious and childish. Perhaps Suresh Sallay is trying to equate Fr Gamini to Zaharan Hashim, who was also a preacher.
(2) It was also complained that because of the apparent mentioning of Major General’s name at the zoom discussion, a considerable damage has been perpetrated to his ‘prestige and integrity.’ This is quite unbelievable. The Director of the State Intelligence Service is a public servant. All public servants should be accountable to the people. It is also not clear that in what context that Suresh Sally name was mentioned by Fr. Gamini at the discussion. However, this is not the first time his name was mentioned in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks. Several Members of Parliament and others have mentioned his name under various contexts.
After the complaint, the CID had taken the matter very serious, for some reason or the other, and has hunted for Fr. Cyril Gamini running about here and there for some days and weeks. In the meanwhile, some other Priests on behalf of him went before the CID and requested some time for Fr Gamini to appear before the CID. This was not properly heeded. The CID went before the Colombo Magistrate to get an order through the Attorney General’s Department for the Fr Gamini to appear immediately. It appeared therefore that all in the State apparatus were getting involved in the victimization.
The concern of Fr Gamini and many others was that if he is arrested by the CID and taken to the Fourth Floor what would happen to him, or how would the CID treat him? The Fourth Floor virtually is a famous place for mistreatment, and forcing even the clients, sometimes, to jump out of the windows, apart from many other treatments.
It is in this context that Fr Gamini went before the Supreme Court requesting the Court to safeguard his fundamental rights to ‘express his views’ and ‘concerns about his parishioners’ who were killed and severely injured during the Easter Sunday Attacks. One of the immediate pleas of the case was to prevent him from arrest.
A full hearing of the case is now dated for April 2022 pertaining to his full range of fundamental rights under the Constitution, and other related matters. However at the first hearing, the three member court has taken up the matter of the threatened arrest. What had the CID said? Through the Attorney General’s Department, they had said that they don’t have an intention to arrest Fr. Gamini at that moment! This statement itself proves that Suresh Sallay’s complaint about life danger was baseless.
In March 2021, Suresh Sallay also made a complaint to the CID against a Member of Parliament, Nalin Bandara, similar to what he has claimed against Fr Gamini. Apparently the CID is still investigating the case. The situation is so confused and controversial and Suresh Sallay, as the Head of the SIS is apparently exerting undue influence regarding these cases on the CID. This is not correct.
Incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks are so complex and multifaceted. It is mainly the victims who know the pain and agony. It is the right of the victims and their spokespersons to express their views, raise questions and suspicions, of course without insulting any person. It is the duty of the State, or the CID in this case, to investigate them without harassing the whistleblowers or the victims. The harassment of Rev Fr Cyril Gamini by the CID should be strongly condemned.