Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb 24, 2021 / 13:26 pm
The Sri Lankan government must release its report on the Easter 2019 terrorist attack on Christian churches and hotels, say Catholic leaders.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo reportedly will not meet with any Sri Lanka politicians due to the delay. He has postponed meetings with Catholic members of parliament in both the government and the opposition, the Sri Lanka newspaper The Island reported, citing sources in the cardinal’s office.
Other bishops have also spoken out about the failure to release the report from the presidential inquiry into the Easter Sunday attacks, which killed more than 260 people and injured more than 500.
“We have a lot of doubts about this whole process, the whole thing is getting delayed,” Bishop Winston Fernando of Badulla, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, told the Associated Press.
Nine suicide bombers attacked two Catholic churches, one evangelical Christian church, four hotels, and a housing complex April 21, 2019. The church attacks came in the middle of Easter Sunday services. Two Sri Lankan groups who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group have been blamed in the attacks.
Critics of the government investigation fear corruption or negligence has prevented prosecution of collaborators in the attack.
Fernando said the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka was alarmed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to appoint a new six-member committee to study the report without sharing the report with the Church or with the attorney general to prosecute suspects.
“If there are people involved, they want to protect them, I suppose, what else?” the bishop said.
The study committee is composed only of government ministers who are members of the ruling coalition.
Fernando criticized the makeup of the committee. It was not balanced, and its integrity can be questioned because some members have other court cases pending against them, he said.
Ahead of the attacks, foreign intelligence gave warnings to the government. However, a communication breakdown between the then-president and prime minister reportedly led to a failure to coordinate a security response.
Rajapaksa’s office has said the new committee has a mandate to identify what measures various agencies should take to implement the presidential commission’s recommendations, the Associated Press said.
Earlier in February, Cardinal Ranjith wrote to Rajapaksa to request a copy of the report. The cardinal has warned that he would seek help from international Church bodies if the government does not quickly act on the report.
In October 2020, five of seven suspects arrested in connection with the attacks were released by the government, on the stated grounds of lack of evidence.
At that time, Ranjith said security officials had confirmed to him that there was sufficient evidence against many of the suspects who had been arrested. The cardinal, along with friends and family of the victims, have said they fear the release of the suspects meant corruption, or a lack of a thorough investigation, on the part of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department.
Skeptics of the investigation were most dubious about the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of MP Rishad Bathiudeen, who is the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress party in Sri Lanka. In September 2020 a police spokesman told journalists that Riyaj Bathiudeen had met with one of the suicide bombers before one of the attacks on a hotel, and he was accused of other acts of collaboration with the bombers.
Rajapaksa rejected any claims that a deal had been made with MP Bathiudeen in the release of his brother. Various reports speculated that a deal would have aided the president’s push for constitutional changes that would grant “sweeping powers” to the president.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal. Its population is more than 21 million. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of Sri Lanka’s Christians.
The country has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009.