Nov 19, 2016

Law inactive against violent monks admits professor Hettige Featured

Chairman of the Police Commission, Siri Hettige said he accepts all allegations indicated in a letter written by 367 citizens to the Inspector General of Police, alleging that the police and government are maintaining silence over violence and hate speech carried out by certain groups of monks against minority races and religions, which indicates the government’s support to such disruptive groups.

A copy of the letter had been emailed to the Chairman of the Police Commission too and he had replied to the letter.

The email letter which was initiated yesterday had received the signatures of 367 citizens within just a few hours.

Although several Civil Society Organisations had raised this issue on many occasions and informed the relevant bodies, no action had been taken against these violent and disruptive elements.

It was highlighted that all races and religions are equal before the law and whoever violates the laws of the country should be dealt with fairly irrespective of whether they are monks or priests.

Therefore the letter urged the authorities to take quick action on the below mentioned areas expeditiously.

(1) Immediately arrest Gnanasara himi for the statements he made on 15 November 2016, which fuel communal tensions and expressly threaten and incite violence against ethnic and religious numerical minorities. There is adequate evidence in the public domain about Gnanasara himi’s previous conduct, and he is already involved in legal proceedings about the threat to repeat Aluthgama he made in June 2016.

(2) Immediately arrest Ampitiye Sumangala Himi from Managalaramaya, Batticaloa for his numerous racially charged abuse and violence, and on many occasions, acting with complete disregard for the law, as is quite indicative in the footage we’ve provided above.

(3) Investigate the actions of all other extremist groups and persons and take necessary action under the law.

(4) Update the public on the status of the complaint made by the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) on Gnanasara himi’s threat to repeat Aluthgama.

(5) Inform the public on the steps taken to prevent future incidents that are likely to incite racial and religious violence by groups that propagate hate-speech and threats of violence against ethnic and religious numerical minorities, in particular those led by Buddhist monks due to the privileged position and immunity they hold in society.

Full statment

18th November, 2016

Inspector General of Police (IGP),
Police Headquarters,
Colombo 01

Dear Mr. Pujith Jayasundara,

Complaint on Police inaction in relation to Buddhist monk-led violent attacks on
 numerical minority ethnic and religious communities

We are outraged by the blatant Police inaction and the complacency of the State towards the culture of impunity which prevails around the continuing trend of Buddhist monk-led violent attacks on ethnic and religious numerical minorities.

While the Sri Lankan Constitution clearly guarantees all citizens the right to equality, non-discrimination and freedom of religion and religious worship, the number of attacks against religious and ethnic numerical minorities across Sri Lanka, by ethno-nationalist majoritarian groups, typically led by one or more Buddhist monks, remains unchecked. Civil society groups have consistently documented and reported such attacks to relevant authorities. However, charges have never been brought against the perpetrators, despite the conduct of these monks being in clear violation of hate-speech and anti-discrimination protections under Sri Lankan law.

This morning, the following story where the notorious leader of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Buddhist monk, Gnanasara himi, in responding to the arrest of Suresh Prasad (alias Dan Priyasad), a self-proclaimed “Saviour of the Sinhalese”[1], was brought to our attention. Gnanasara himi has threatened a ‘bloodbath’ and in the video clears states that, “we must sort this issue out with stones, poles and blood, because if this is what they want, then this is what they will get!”

The story details that Gnanasara himi was calling for the arrest of Secretary of the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ), Abdul Razik ‘ within 24 hours’, as a response to the arrest of DanPriyasad . Subsequently, we were informed that Abdul Razik was arrested by the Maligawatte Police, and is now in remand custody. The arrest, and the speed at which it was effected, illustrates that Gnanasara himi’s words have immense influence, even on the Police, which should act as an ‘independent’ establishment. This is deeply problematic, especially in the face of Police inaction against the spate of violent attacks and threats of attacks carried out by extremist groups, in particular Buddhist monks.

This is not the only recent incident involving Gnanasara himi. In June this year, he made a public declaration at a rally in Mahiyanganaya, that they could at any time re-enact the Aluthgama violence[2] (this was in reference to the anti-Muslim riots in 2014 in which four persons were killed, 80 injured, and approximately 10,000 displaced). This speech was documented and the video was widely shared online. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) filed a written complaint[3] to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) regarding the incident and requested immediate action. However, to our knowledge, no action has been taken against Gnanasara himi to date.

Recently, another video of a Buddhist monk, identified as Ampitiye Sumangala Himi, Chief Incumbent of the Mangalaramaya Temple, in Batticaloa, has gone viral on the internet. The video shows the monk using extreme racist expletives and abusive language to verbally assault and threaten a Tamil public servant (Grama Sevaka (GS)) in the presence of a uniformed police officer. The police officer in question stood by and observed the attack without taking the necessary action to protect the public servant or stop the Buddhist monk. When the police officer finally stepped in, he did so in a seemingly hesitant and fearful manner.

The recent incident involving Ampitiye Sumangala Himi again, is not an isolated incident. The same monk has been involved in multiple incidents[4] where he has behaved in a similarly abusive and violent manner, including an incident where he assaulted a female police officer and other villagers[5].  To date, no action has been taken against Ampitiye Sumangala Himi for his conduct.

In another incident, also in June 2016, a vigil for equality, under the banner ‘Different Yet Equal’ organised by a group of concerned citizens was attacked and violently disrupted[6] by a group calling themselves ‘SinhaLe’ and lead by its National Coordinator, Arambepola Rathanasara himi. The attack took place in the presence of police who were reluctant to stop the violent mob, and instead attempted to lecture and question the peaceful demonstrators on their vigil and presence. In a separate incident, there is also video footage of the SinhaLe group rabidly threatening ‘all Muslims’ with death.[7] In another incident in August this year, Rathanasara himi and some SinhaLe goons, intimidated and threatened[8] to harm two female Christian worshippers and a Christian pastor.

In yet another incident, a Tamil couple was violently intimidated by abusive Buddhist monks within a temple premises in Colombo. The victims of this violence have been in hiding, and are still living in fear of reprisal for having publicised their horrific experience.[9]

Public behaviour of this kind is in clear violation of hate-speech and anti-discrimination protections under Sri Lankan law, particularly as provided for in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act (ICCPR Act).[10] The ICCPR Act provides that “No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence”,[11] and that every person who does so, or who attempts to commit, aids or abets, or threatens to commit such acts, commits an offence that is punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment.[12] The failure of the State to take immediate action to investigate and hold individuals accountable for this type of conduct is a clear violation of its obligations under law and a failure of its obligation to uphold constitutional guarantees and the duty to protect all persons from such threats and violence.

A joint civil society submission[13] to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2016, documented 132 incidents faced by Christians and 141 incidents against the Muslims, in a span of one year, since 2015. These incidents include attacks on places of religious worship, and numerical minority religious communities being disrupted during times of worship and prayer. The Sri Lanka Campaign, in an article published in May 2016, states: “no prosecutions have yet been brought against Buddhist extremists implicated in previous attacks on Christians or Muslims. In particular the inability and unwillingness of the authorities to take action in investigating the murder of Muslims in the course of the 2014 riots continues to feed concerns that the Government is not taking the issue of Buddhist extremism seriously enough.” [14]

We are deeply frustrated and angered by the sheer lack of will from the State in actively and publicly condemning this kind of racist rhetoric and hate-speech, and taking immediate legal action against perpetrators. The Police should move immediately to bring to justice all those in violation of Sri Lanka’s anti-discrimination and hate-speech laws, including Buddhist monks. The Government must seriously consider the impact and influence such groups that propagate hate-speech and threats of violence against ethnic and religious numerical minorities have on the general public, by way of creating a dangerously permissible environment for civilians to act in a similar manner, without fear of consequence. A clear example of which is an incident where a group of self-proclaimed ‘Sinhala Buddhist Champions’ or ‘Saviours of the Sinhalese’ threatened to burn and kill Muslims, make a mass call for recruits to serve their ‘worthy cause’, and incite the masses with ethnically and religiously charged misinformation. A member of this group, Dan Priyasath, was arrested by the Fort Police on 15 November, following public outrage and pressure, including by several members of Parliament.[15]

The Police must adopt a uniformed response to acts of religious violence, threats of violence, and hate-speech against religious and ethnic numerical minorities. Under the fundamental principle of equality before the law, all who engage in such conduct, including Buddhist monks, must be held to account. It is the obligation of the Police to enforce the law equally, without exception.

Further, the protection of the tenet of equality must be paramount to all law enforcement authorities. This is critical to reconciliation, to which the State has publicly declared a commitment. When ethnic and religious numerical minorities are subjected to hate-speech, threats of violence, and discriminatory actions, and the State is passive or indifferent to these acts, discussions of reconciliation ring superficial and insincere.


We urgently demand the following action from the Police:

  1. Immediately arrest Gnanasara himi for the statements he made on 15 November 2016, which fuel communal tensions and expressly threaten and incite violence against ethnic and religious numerical minorities. There is adequate evidence in the public domain about Gnanasara himi’s previous conduct, and he is already involved in legal proceedings about the threat to repeat Aluthgama he made in June 2016.
  2. Immediately arrest Ampitiye Sumangala Himi from Managalaramaya, Batticaloa for his numerous racially charged abuse and violence, and on many occasions, acting with complete disregard for the law, as is quite indicative in the footage we’ve provided above. 
  3. Investigate the actions of all other extremist groups and persons and take necessary action under the law.
  4. Update the public on the status of the complaint made by the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) on Gnanasara himi’s threat to repeat Aluthgama.
  5. Inform the public on the steps taken to prevent future incidents that are likely to incite racial and religious violence by groups that propagate hate-speech and threats of violence against ethnic and religious numerical minorities, in particular those led by Buddhist monks due to the privileged position and immunity they hold in society.

[1] Colombo Telegraph, Police Arrests ‘Saviour Of The Sinhalese’ Who Threatened To Bomb Muslims - https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/police-arrests-saviour-of-the-sinhalese-who-threatened-to-bomb-muslims/

[2] Colombo Telegraph, Video: BBS Gnanasara Back In Action, Promises To Repeat Aluthgama Mayhem - https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/video-bbs-gnanasara-back-in-action-promises-to-repeat-aluthgama-mayhem/

[3] Colombo Gazette, BBS back to old habits, Muslim Council writes to IGP - http://colombogazette.com/2016/06/25/bbs-back-to-old-habits-muslim-council-writes-to-igp/

[5] Vakeesam.com - மட்டு. விகாராதிபதியின் மறுபக்கம் – பெண் பொலிஸாரை கலைத்து கலைத்துத் தாக்கும் அதிர்ச்சி வீடியோ - http://www.vakeesam.com/%E0%AE%AE%E0%AE%9F%E0%AF%8D%E0%AE%9F%E0%AF%81-%E0%AE%B5%E0%AE%BF%E0%AE%95%E0%AE%BE%E0%AE%B0%E0%AE%BE%E0%AE%A4%E0%AE%BF%E0%AE%AA%E0%AE%A4%E0%AE%BF%E0%AE%AF%E0%AE%BF%E0%AE%A9%E0%AF%8D-%E0%AE%AE.html

[7] SinhaLe threatening to kill all Muslims - https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BzO8SAlmDKanUTN4YmpIX3pua2s

[8] Rathanasara himi and SinhaLe goons, intimidate and threaten Christian worshippers and a Pastor - https://www.facebook.com/SJBOFFICIALPAGE/videos/1043738325733995/ & https://www.facebook.com/SJBOFFICIALPAGE/videos/1043742442400250/

[9] DBSJeyaraj.com - Tamil Family in Colombo Suburb Suffers Terrible Ordeal at the Hands of a “Religious Mob” http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/49409

[10] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007.

[11] ICCPR Act, s 3(1).

[12] ICCPR Act, ss 3(2) and 3(3).

[13] Report by Centre For Human Rights Development, National Christian Evangelical Alliance Of Sri Lanka and Minority Rights Group International - https://goo.gl/fWhcPD

[14] Sri Lanka Campaign, Ominous rise in attacks on Sri Lanka’s Christians - https://www.srilankacampaign.org/ominous-rise-attacks-sri-lankas-christians/

[15] Colombo Telegraph, Police Arrests ‘Saviour Of The Sinhalese’ Who Threatened To Bomb Muslims - https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/police-arrests-saviour-of-the-sinhalese-who-threatened-to-bomb-muslims/ 

 

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