By Latheef Farook –
Muslim parliamentarians protect the government; Calls to ban BBS and prosecute its leaders
The government and opposition parliamentarians began, directly and indirectly, accusing the government of being behind the Sinhala extremist Bodu Bala Sena and its anti Muslim campaign following its attack on the Slave Island Nippon Hotel press briefing of Jathika Bala Sena – JBS. The JBS is another group of Buddhist monk organization that promotes Peace and co-existence in the country.
However long before politicians woke up after the attack on JBS ,most Muslims were convinced of government’s involvement in view of the police protection the extremists enjoyed in their more than 300 anti Muslim attacks.
However what no one could understand is that these attacks on the island’s Muslim community come in the aftermath of the 30 year ethnic war which was the product of this very same destructive racist politics.
This only shows that no lesson was learnt from the 30 year carnage. Latest in this series was the attack on the press conference at Nippon Hotel.
Flanked by two dozen young monks and in the presence of number of police officers, on Wednesday 9 April 2014, the BBS General Secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, stormed a media conference organized by JBS secretary Ven Watareka Vijitha and forced to suspend the event. Moulavis at the briefing fled the scene while the JBS monks were humiliated and forced to beg forgiveness for siding with ‘Lebbes,’ a derogatory term for the Muslims. Ven Watareka Vijitha Thera was forced to apologize to the entire nation and the Maha Sangha for what BBS claimed as ‘letting down the Maha Sanga before the Muslims and betraying Buddhism.’
What shocked the nation was that this shameful attack took place under the watchful eye of police. Police protection to BBS hooliganisms drew swift condemnation here and abroad with some calling for the banning of BBS and arrest Gnanasara Thera for continuously violating the law, spreading hatred and inciting Sinhalese against Muslims.
There was also a signature campaign calling President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ban the BBS.
In its wake Washington based Terrorism Research Analysis Consortium (TRAC) has classified Sri Lanka’s Bodu Bala Sena as a ‘Religious and Cult Terrorist Group‘. In its report on the BBS, TRAC states that, ‘the BBS engages in hate speech and attacks against minority religions.’ It has organized various campaigns against the country’s minority Muslim and Christian communities which, according to the organization, pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-Buddhist identity, TRAC adds. In the TRAC analysis in terms of the BBS ideology it has classified it as a ‘Religious (all) and Cult Terrorist Groups’.
Then came the call by Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, Vasudeva Nanayakara to proscribe the BBS by law .He told that “BBS is in no way an organization that can be called Buddhist. It consists of terrorists who are disguised as Buddhists. They have insulted and harassed minority religious groups in the country. Such organizations consisting vagrant operatives should be banned immediately. The dormant attitude adopted by the police, especially with regard to the BBS and its actions, was due to the political immunity that the organization enjoyed through the intervention of a high-ranking government official. I can clearly say that the BBS is enjoying support from a high-ranking State official. That is why its members are behaving in such a manner. There is someone impeding the police from carrying out investigations against the BBS.
Minister Nanayakkara plans to make a formal request to the government to proscribe the BBS, since a broad social dialogue should be initiated against such outfits.
Going a step ahead the National Shoora Council, NSC, called for legal measures against Sinhala extremists who are spreading the poison of hatred and tearing apart peaceful communities. The NSC urges the government and its principal law enforcement agency the police to ensure prompt prosecution of BBS led mob which not only forcibly disrupted under threat of death the 9th April press conference of the respected Buddhist monk Rev. Watareka Wijitha Thera but also followed up by outraging, maliciously and deliberately, the religious feelings of the Muslims by insulting Islam and the Holy Quran outside the Slave Island Police on 12th April in the presence of the police, the media and the public.
The NSC considers these despicable and unlawful acts as violating the fundamental rights of the monk as well as the Muslims as provided for in the country’s Constitution.
The BBS had violated several provisions of the Penal Code such as threat of murder, unlawful assembly, criminal trespass, criminal intimidation, extortion or robbery, wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement etc. by forcibly preventing the press conference of Vijitha Thera. Thereafter, following his statement to the Slave Island Police, Gnanasara Thera had insulted the Holy Quran and Islam and had committed offences relating to religion as laid down in the Penal Code. In addition, Gnanasara Thera’s conducts are in violation of Sec. 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act which requires the offenders to be kept in remand custody until the conclusion of trial.
With such stringent laws in place, the police have in a shocking manner released the offenders at the police station itself without reporting facts to and producing the suspects before the Magistrate. Sequences of what happened and did not happen were seen by the entire country. Evidence of violations of laws is readily available in several video clippings recorded by the media.
Hitting hard at the government senior UNP MP, Ravi Karunanayake rejected claims by some sections of the government that the BBS was being used by international conspirators to tarnish the image of Buddhism. It was elements within the ruling alliance that were instigating the BBS to act in the manner it did so that the resulting confusion could be used to cloud burning issues such as the rising cost of living, rampant corruption and the unprecedented crime wave, which had gripped the entire country,
Accusing leading members of the UPFA government of being fully behind the BBS, he asked “how can those entrusted with ensuring the security of the people fiddle for nearly five years while violent elements attacked the minorities including their places of religious worship and economic interests? No sane person will accept such a stupid excuse.”
He pointed out that the government had been crying wolf for far too long and did not hesitate to brand those who criticized it with supportive evidence as deshadrodhin (traitors).”Sri Lankans are now sick and tired of hearing such foolish rhetoric.”
He emphasized that the BBS and other extremists were all home-grown forces and there was no foreign connection whatsoever. Thus he called on the Muslim Ministers and MPs in the government to stop “running with the hare and hunting with hound” and decide whether they wanted to continue to be in an administration that was treating the minorities like third class citizens who could be punched and kicked about with impunity.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna JVP said that the fact that the BBS could threaten and disrupt a media conference in the presence of the Police was a clear indication that the organisation’s actions are state sponsored. The government should immediately take action to prevent such incidents which threaten democracy and national unity . The strongly worded statement which denounced the actions of the BBS said that the abuse and threats hurled at the monks of the Jathika Bala Sena poses a serious threat to the status of the rule of law.
The Nippon hotel lawlessness also brought heat on the government Muslim parliamentarians, sandwiched between their keen desire to preserve their positions and perks and their responsibility towards the community which is seething with anger against them for clinging on to this very same government, forced them to speak out.
While condemning the attack Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem said the conduct of law enforcement officers was a matter of public concern and also of concern to political parties such as the SLMC which was deeply disturbed that the OIC of the Slave Island police and other policemen had been passive onlookers at the incident which was a blatant violation of a citizen’s right to free assembly and speech.
Minister Hakeem said that a principal obligation of the State was to enforce the law to prevent impunity and to subject that process to judicial purview and the SLMC was also compelled to note its grave concerns about the recent trends towards the emasculation of the law enforcement agencies.
Sri Lanka had steadfastly announced to the world that the responsibility to protect human rights rested first and foremost with the State itself and that the need of the hour was true accountability and democratic norms of governance that could guarantee political rights and civil liberties, the Justice Minister said.
Addressing a news conference in Colombo Chairman of the UNP Kabir Hashim, MP, said that the Rajapaksa regime never hesitated to issue statements on even minor issues, but when the BBS had violently prevented the JBS which included both Buddhists and Muslims from informing the public of their programme of work aimed at forging communal and religious harmony and threatened to disrobe a Buddhist monk, there was no one in authority to utter a word against it.
He alleged that the indifferent attitude of the powers that be proved there was a link between the BBS and certain sections in the government. The BBS not only had the audacity to attack minority religious places of worship but was also threatening those who criticized it with physical attacks. It was such actions that had contributed to Sri Lanka being pilloried at the UNHRC and other international fora.
Kabir said the only way the BBS menace could be controlled was for all the Muslim Ministers to sit independently in Parliament. Some Muslim ministers had threatened to boycott the legislature in protest against the latest campaign by the BBS over the resettlement of Northern Muslims who had been driven out of the North by the LTTE in 1990, the majority of whom continued to live in camps.
“Boycotting Parliament is not the answer since some ministers are rarely seen in the House. Unless a tough stand was taken, there was no way the Rajapaksa regime would rein in the BBS which has made life miserable for the minority communities ever since the war ended.
Hashim said that Muslim members of the government party in other elected bodies should also sit with the opposition or independently if the government was to be brought to its senses.
Representations to the president over the last five years have obviously had no effect, going by the continued attacks on virtually all aspects of Muslim lives including their religious places of worship and economic interests. The president as usual assured the various delegations who met him that the miscreants would be brought to justice and the issues resolved. But nearly five years after the war had ended the situation had gone from bad to worse, he pointed out.
Hashim observed that the reception accorded by members of all communities to Sri Lanka’s T20 World Cup winning team indicated that the minorities were willing to integrate as one nation though some extremist elements such as the BBS were trying to marginalize the minorities due to their warped thinking, irrational fears and belief that this country belonged to only the Sinhalese.
If the Rajapaksa regime continued to mouth empty slogans without disciplining the extremists, the future would turn out to be very bleak. The indifferent attitude of the powers that be was one of the prime reasons for the country being pilloried at the UNHRC and other international forums, he noted.
Investment Promotion Deputy Minister Feizar Mustapha warned that “inciting religious hatred which is against the law could further isolate Sri Lanka in the International arena.
General Secretary of SLMC M. T. Hassan Ali said that the minority communities were demanding that the government act fast to put an end to all illegal acts by the BBS and all other extremists groups that had got out of hand. Unless the government acted immediately there would be chaos as the BBS was trying to engineer communal violence.
He asked whether the government had recognised the BBS as a private army.
Summing up the situation Western Province Council member Mujibur Rahman said that the government is promoting and protecting BBS and the SLMC is protecting the government.
Thus the SLMC, as a constituent member of the government, also shares responsibility for the ongoing anti Muslim campaign which has all the potentials to turn this country into a killing field once again.
*Some details gathered from interviews given to The Island and Ceylon Today