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Sri Lanka’s Catholic church mounts pressure on Gotabaya over Easter attacks

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Sri Lanka’s Catholic church has sought the intervention of the Vatican and the UN to ensure justice for the victims of the Easter terror attacks of 2019, mounting pressure on the Rajapaksa administration that came to power promising to bring perpetrators to book.

Earlier this week, Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith met Pope Francis in Rome and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in Geneva. He raised concern over “inadequate” progress in the probe into the Easter bombings that shook Sri Lanka in April 2019, killing 279 people including 45 foreign nationals. The serial blasts, attributed to a network of Islamist radicals, took place at three churches in capital Colombo and the eastern town of Batticaloa, and at three luxury hotels in Colombo.

Cardinal Ranjith’s international outreach comes after a series of protests and statements in Sri Lanka, seeking justice for families affected by the most gruesome terror attacks in Sri Lanka, in the island nation’s post-civil war years. According to activists, the Catholic church’s campaign for justice will heighten in the coming weeks, in the run up to the third anniversary of the bombings. Their demand coincides with growing criticism of the Rajapaksa administration over a severe shortage of essentials, including fuel and medicines, and long power cuts as the island nation battles an unprecedented economic crisis.  

Known to be a supporter of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa administration (2005-2015), especially when government forces fought the LTTE, Cardinal Ranjith earlier denounced any foreign intervention in Sri Lanka’s affairs when Tamils, including some Catholics, called for international support for war-time accountability and justice.

In a clear shift, he has now sought help from both the Pope, and at UN forums. Commenting on the senior Catholic priest’s current stance, Sri Lanka’s popular business newspaper the Daily FT noted in its editorial on Friday: “His entreaties to the international community echo the calls for justice from thousands of Sri Lankan victims of atrocities and human rights abuses since the end of the civil war as time and again, judicial processes in the island simply fail to deliver.”

Last month, the top Roman Catholic bishop slammed the government, when authorities arrested catholic activist Shehan Malaka Gamage, who has in the past questioned if politicians used the 2019 Easter attacks for political gains including electoral victory, alluding to polls held later that year. He termed the activist’s arrest an “indecent and thuggish act” that resembled “an abduction”.

A Parliament Select Committee, set up under the former Maithripala Sirisena – Ranil Wickremesinghe government, and a panel appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena, which continued its probe after regime change, have submitted detailed reports on Easter Bombings. However, critics of both governments have noted that neither attempt has conclusively established with evidence the “real architects” of the attacks carried out by suicide bombers. The Catholic church has criticised the government for refusing to make public the findings of the presidential commission. In her latest report on Sri Lanka the UN human rights referred to the the pending full investigation of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings and the need for making the findings of a Presidential panel public.

Also read: Portraits of the victims

Police have arrested over 200 suspects in the last three years, but Cardinal Ranjith has earlier remarked that those persecuted so far are “smaller fish”, pointing to “a bigger conspiracy beyond religious extremism”. Amid allegations of a “conspiracy”, Sri Lanka police in January said 42 people had been charged in the case, dismissing allegations of a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, the Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar will take up the case against 25 accused in a hearing fixed for May 12, the State-run Daily News reported on Friday.


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Printable version | Jun 4, 2022 10:09:24 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lankas-catholic-church-mounts-pressure-on-gotabaya-over-easter-attacks/article65190494.ece