Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, for long preached and waged a strong campaign to return a Rajapaksa-led government to power. He has been an ardent supporter of that camp, long before the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, and his campaign to restore them to power intensified after that fateful day.
But today, the Cardinal has become their most vociferous critic, and no longer the darling of the government.
The thousandth day since the Easter bombings was marked with a service at the Tewatte Basilica in Ragama, on January 14th. Two days before the service, news broke out that a hand grenade had been found at All Saints Church, Borella. According to the Cardinal, Special Task Force officers who investigated the matter had only examined the CCTV camera recordings after 3 p.m. on the day the grenade was found. Within hours they had arrested the Sacristan of the Church. Sarath Weerasekera, the Minister of Public Security, was at pains to tell the public that the Sacristan, Muni, was a Tamil. Same as the man, he said, who allegedly planted a grenade at the Lanka Hospital, sometime last year. But their game plan misfired when the Cardinal provided further evidence the next day. Caught on camera was footage of a man entering All Saints Church the morning the grenade was found. CCTV footage, which he said the police had not shown an interest in examining. They, the Cardinal said, were insistent that footage after 3 p.m. was sufficient to trace the culprit. With the absurdity of the activities of the police exposed, both Weerasekera and Secretary Defence, General Kamal Gunaratne verbally attacked the Cardinal, claiming he was interfering with police investigations.
The Sinhala Buddhist nationalist bandwagon consisting of Gunadasa Amarasekera, Nalin de Silva, et al, echoed the Weerasekera/Gunaratne sentiments.
Then, lo and behold, police find a man in Embilipitya who claimed he was paid Rs. 50,000 by someone to place the bomb. First news reports identified that ‘someone’ as a Muslim from Ratmalana. Overnight, that ‘someone’ became a Sinhala Catholic, a retired doctor. According to his son, Oshala Herath, a prominent political activist who once served on former President Maithripala Sirisena’s staff, and who later contested the 2020 parliamentary elections as an alternative group of the UNP, the police had entered his Piliyandala home by force. He also alleged that his house was searched and all electronic devices, a toy pellet gun, air guns, a Rambo style knife, and ornamental swords had been taken away. He alleged the police showed no search or arrest warrants, although his father had been taken away. Since then, he has had no access to his father, and it had been after many attempts that lawyers had been allowed to speak with Dr. Herath. He claims that police say his father is mentally imbalanced following the death of his mother about six months ago. The Sinhala language media did what they do best; blowing out of proportion the items confiscated from the Herath household; claiming a hidden cache of arms had been found. One would recollect the media circus following the Easter bombings, where TV crews accompanied the military to reveal ‘stacks of weapons’ in Muslim households and mosques, in readiness of an attack against an unsuspecting public. Indeed, national security had been breached they said, and all and sundry believed the country needed a government capable of protecting the people.
Though court cases have been filed against the then IGP Pujith Jayasundera and Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, two of the key persons who failed to prevent the Easter attacks, then-President Maithripala Sirisena and the then head of the intelligence services, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police, Nilantha Jayawardena roam free. This is despite recommendations by the various presidential commissions and the parliamentary select committee appointed to investigate the Easter attacks that action be taken against them. Adding insult to injury, Jayawardena has been made a State witness in the court cases related to the Easter bombings. It is reported that the Attorney General is also appointing proxies for Jayawardena in cases filed in the Negombo Magistrates courts by families of Easter tragedy victims. Though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa threatened he could remove Maithripala’s civic rights, over the latter’s actions (or lack thereof) related to the Easter tragedy, during a recent speech in Kelaniya, the latter continues to be a member of the Rajapaksa government. They fire verbal missiles at each other; cheap entertainment for the public, but there is deepening certainty that the real culprits of the Easter bombings will never be brought to justice.
Following the Easter attack, Catholics became the most loved section of the population in Sri Lanka. Every street corner and government building displayed banners of sympathy. The Cardinal, most said, was even better than Buddhist prelates, for he ensured there would be no retaliatory attacks against Muslims.
The Cardinal preached and a majority of Catholics obliged, obediently booting out the Yahapalanaya government at both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections. And then they waited, for justice for the Easter Sunday victims.
As Catholics increasingly voice their displeasure against the government, they are beginning to face the reality of a force that will stop at nothing to silence them; Fr. Cyril Gamini Fernando hauled before the CID for referring to Major General Suresh Salley’s alleged connections to the bombings, Chirantha Amarasinghe, who has been leading a crusade to get to the bottom of the tragedy for over a year, and Shehan Malaka Gamage who has been asking uncomfortable questions.
Kamal Gunaratne was quick to defend Salley, when he recently vouched for the latter’s credentials. Though Malay, said Gunaratne, Salley does not know the Quran and his children have Sinhala names, is married to a Buddhist, and speaks no Tamil or Arabic. In short, Salley’s connections to Sinhalese and Buddhists, clear him of ‘extremist views’; qualifications of being above board then is to be very Sinhala and Buddhist!
Poet Ahnaf Jazeem who was recently granted bail, again held for more than a year in connection with the Easter bombings has said in an interview, that police officers accused him of harbouring and teaching extremist views, as he had no books on Buddhism, amongst his collection. When Sacristan Muni was arrested over the All Saints Church fiasco, Sarath Weerasekera said the offending evidence was that Muni had joss sticks and tape in his possession and that his matchbox was missing match sticks. The grenade was wrapped in tape and matchsticks! If that is the yardstick that makes one a criminal, soon it might be an offence to even have candles, Holy Water and Blessed Oil in Christian homes!
Catholics, especially those who voted the Rajapaksas to power. must take note. In this power play, race does not matter. If you are Muslim, Christian, or Tamil you are the ‘other.’ Divide and rule is the mantra; instigating Buddhists to believe that their way of life is in danger, by all others who make Sri Lanka their home.
The State believes in terrorising and silencing protestors. They’ve abandoned the white van abductions and assaults in favour of questioning by the CID and arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, even as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told Parliament on January 18th, that under his watch, human rights are protected. For Christians, their strongest weapon is their faith in an all-powerful Being. The more they are repressed, the louder and more forceful their prayers for justice. They fear not sacrificing life and limb in search of the truth.
The battle lines are clearly drawn.