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NTJ threatened Chief Incumbent of Nelligala IBC

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by Rathindra Kuruwita

National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) had sent a threatening letter to Chief Incumbent of the Nelligala International Buddhist Centre (NIBC), Ven. Wathurukumbure Dhammaratana Thera, a few weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks, the Thera told on Saturday to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Thera said that Zahran had come to see him on several occasions. On 4 February, 2014, a group of Muslims had come with a local businessman where the NIBC is currently located. It was about an unused state land and the Muslims had begun the construction of a place of worship without the necessary approval.

The Thera was informed of this development by the villagers and on 5 February, he visited the site with some youth and demolished the unauthorised construction. He had then acquired the same land, following the proper process, on a 30-year lease and the construction of the NIBC had commenced with the approval of Department of Buddhist Affairs and other relevant institutions in August, 2014. The witness said that several lands adjoining the site had been purchased and the facilities of the NIBC upgraded.

Asked by a Senior State Counsel (SSC) whether any incident had taken place during the construction of a building in the NIBC premises in June 2016, the witness said that a group of five persons had come and said that they hoped to purchase a plot of land nearby. The witness said that Zahran Hashim, the leader of NTJ had been among the group.

Zaharan had inquired from the witness whether he had any objections to them purchasing the nearby land for the construction of a ‘Centre’, which would not be a Mosque.

“I informed them that I did not like such a development as that would lead to unwanted issues in the future. Zahran spoke Sinhala fluently, better than any ordinary Muslim. Zahran told me that they and we could work together and I realised that he really wanted to buy a land near by Nelligala.”

The witness said that Zahran had returned to the NIBC in March 2017, in a bus with around 50 youth. The Thera said that the youth were dressed in identical clothes and it looked like that they were undergoing a training at some institution.

“Zahran requested some tea saying he and his team had travelled a long distances and I then offered them some tea,” the witness said, adding that Zahran had discussed Buddhism, Catholicism and Islam with him.

“It became clear to me that he was a fundamentalist. He spoke very critically about ordinary Muslims and said that if the estate workers had supported Prabhakaran, they would not have suffered. In August 2017, Zahran again came to the NIBC and discussed various issues with me. He was highly critical of ordinary Muslims, their beliefs, the Maulavis and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU). He also criticised certain rituals by Muslims such as worshipping tombstones at Mosques.”

According to the witness, during another meeting Zaharan had blamed Muslims for the clashes between the Sinhalese and the Muslims in Digana area. Zahran had also found fault with the Thera for intervening and conciliating.

“From what he said, I felt that Zahran liked these clashes. It allowed him to attract Muslim youth to his extremist activities,” the Thera said.

He said that he had also recorded discussions with Tawfiq Ahmed of the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’at (SLTJ) and Abdul Razik, General Secretary of the Ceylon Thowheed Jama’at (CTJ) about Islamist extremist activities and those had been circulating on social media. The witness said Zahran had phoned him and threatened him to remove those videos from social media platforms.

Zahran also blamed Razik since he was critical of Sharia law, Islamic banking and the burqa during the discussions with him, the Thera said.

Although Zahran had never visited the NIBC premises after that meeting, the NTJ leader had spoken to him on the phone on several occasions, the witness said. Zaharan had told him that he was in areas like Mawanella, Nuwara-Eliya and Kattankudi during those conversations, the Thera said.

Asked by the Attorney General’s Department representative when he had last received a telephone call from Zahran, the Thera said the last call from Zahran had come on 23 February, 2019.

“On that day, he spoke in a very aggressive manner and told me that I had no right to comment on matters such as Arabisation.

The witness said Zahran had told him, “You are not like Gnanasara Thera. You are a very cunning man and acquiring Muslims’ lands.”

The Thera said that and event related to the traditional New Year had been organised at the NIBC premises on 21 April, 2019 and he had been shocked about the Easter Sunday attacks and Zahran’s involvement in it. He had also taken steps to remove nearly 2,000 devotees who were at the premises within 20 minutes.

Thereafter, he had informed the then Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army General Shavendra Silva, the Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara that Zaharan had visited the NIBC on several occasions and after eight military personnel had been assigned to protect the NIBC.

The Thera said that a few weeks after the bombings, on 14 May, 2019, he received an anonymous letter on a NTJ letterhead warning that he would be assassinated. Certain things that Zahran had told him over the phone had also included in the letter, the witness said.

“Copies of the letter were handed over to the then Army Commander and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Relevant institutions, however, did not pay due attention to it. They did not record a statement from me or conduct an inquiry into the matter.”

The Thera also submitted a set of proposals on actions to be taken in order to eradicate extremist activities to the PCoI.

Noting that Ven. Dhammaratana Thera’s life could be in danger due to the testimony, the PCoI ordered the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses (NAPVCW) to provide him with adequate security.


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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report

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PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.

 

Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report

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By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin

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By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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