Cardinal calls for decisive action | Daily News
Easter Sunday probes:

Cardinal calls for decisive action

Easter Mass at St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya last Sunday (AFP)
Easter Mass at St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya last Sunday (AFP)

Easter (now also known as Resurrection Sunday) that symbolizes Jesus Christ’s triumph over death was observed by the Christian brethren in Sri Lanka with solemn Masses in churches across the country last Sunday, while the island nation was still struggling to come to terms with the piercing agony of the Easter Sunday carnage that took nearly 260 innocent lives and injured about 500 people, mostly Churchgoers, two years ago.

The Easter Sunday Services at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya and Zion Church in Batticaloa, the three churches that came under suicide attacks on April 21, 2019, rekindled the bone-chilling memories of the fateful day, as the families and friends of those victims gathered for prayers while impatiently waiting for justice for their loved ones who lost their lives or were maimed for life.

Unlike last year, where the Coronavirus pandemic forced strict restriction on public participation, people were allowed to attend the Easter Masses this year in keeping with health guidelines amidst special security provided by the Security Forces and Police.

As the ruthless Easter Sunday massacre crosses the two-year mark in just two weeks, the investigations into the incident seem to have come to a tipping point. The investigators have unearthed vital information that speaks volumes of the gaping holes in national security in the hands of the former coalition Government led by former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The evidence collected by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) has shed light on the above factors. The Catholic community led by Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has in one voice called for solid action against those named in the PCoI report while also urging that no stone is left unturned to reveal the masterminds behind the attacks.

Making progress

The Cabinet Sub-Committee headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa handing over the report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa 

The Government leaders have repeatedly vouched to see the investigations of this incident through to the end with the intention of bringing all the culprits to book. This was a key pre-election pledge of the incumbent Government. The Government apprised Parliament last month that investigative bodies such as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) have made notable headway in that regard. Many arrests and detentions have been made with regard to the attacks.

At the same time, the Attorney General’s Department is in the middle of a daunting task of carefully studying all the documents so far received from the investigative bodies to extract the required evidence to institute legal action against the wrongdoers. The hefty PCoI report, containing 87 volumes and running into thousands of pages, is among those documents. Twenty-two of those volumes were said to have sensitive security details and confidential information. All these volumes have been handed over to the AG and his team for their perusal.

Moreover, the six-member Ministerial Committee headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa on Monday submitted its report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa identifying 78 recommendations of the PCoI report for implementation, though it reportedly had different opinions on some PCoI recommendations.

The press release of the President’s Media Division said the Cabinet Sub-Committee has also examined ways and means of implementing those

Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith speaks to the media after Easter Sunday Mass at St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade
Former President Maithripala Sirisena answers queries from journalists

recommendations and the agencies those tasks should be assigned to. The Government has also focused attention towards legal and social reforms proposed by the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security of the previous Parliament. The Oversight Committee came up with those proposals, in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, with a view to preventing a recurrence of similar incidents in the future.

After two years

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in their Easter Sunday messages renewed their pledge to punish all the wrongdoers connected to this incident that shocked the entire world.

“Two years ago, when Easter Sunday was being celebrated by the Sri Lankan Christian community with utmost devotion, they became victims of the most brutal attacks by extremists. The sorrowful memory of pain and loss caused by this tragic incident has not faded from the broken hearts of the suffering Sri Lankan people even today. We will leave no room for the culprits as well as groups who are responsible for this dastardly attack to escape the arm of law. Also, the Government is determined to ensure national security in order to prevent a recurrence of such tragedies in the Motherland,” the President stated.

The PM in his message reiterated that the Government make persistent efforts to produce those responsible for the attacks before the law and mete out justice for the victims. He assured that the investigations would continue impartially without any undue interference from any quarter.

Opposition Leader and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa over the weekend tendered an apology to the public for failing to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks despite being a minister of the then Yahapalana Government.

“This tragedy took place under a Government in which I was also a part of. I do not shirk that responsibility. I insist on the death penalty for those involved in, aiding, abetting or financing terrorist activities. The country’s legal framework must be strengthened to prevent any room for terrorist activities,” he commented attending a “Sathkaraya” mobile service programme in Tissamaharamaya in Hambantota, his home turf.

In the meantime, several Opposition members including SJB frontliner MP Patali Champika Ranawaka and National People’s Power (NPP) Leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake, in their Parliamentary speeches during the Adjournment Debate regarding the probes on the Easter Sunday attacks, inferred on the possibility of a deep-state involvement behind the attacks. SJB MP Nalin Bandara was grilled by the CID for the second time on Monday for making similar remarks at a media conference with no concrete evidence.

Sharp-edged words

Former President Sirisena (now an MP representing the SLFP), taking the floor for over an hour during the third day of the Parliamentary debate on the PCoI report on the Easter Sunday attacks last month, made every attempt to convince the audience that he was in the dark about the Intelligence pre-warnings received from friendly countries and our own Intelligence agencies. He also elaborated on some of his disputable actions such as going abroad on a personal visit without appointing an acting Defence Minister to oversee the duties. This particular lapse has indeed been highlighted by the PCoI as well as the Ministerial Sub-Committee. The Parliament debate is to continue today, for the fourth day.

The highlight of the news headlines this week was a sharply-worded media comment by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith following the main Easter Sunday Mass at St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa at the Sathkaraya  programme

The Cardinal pulled no punches at former President Sirisena, who has been faulted by the PCoI for failing to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks, over speculation that he was going to seek re-election, though it was not immediately clear if an election was on the horizon.

“If he has any shame, how can he, who flew overseas despite knowing that the people’s lives were at risk, contest an election again? We would like to ask him to check whether he has any clothes on when making such statements. It is time for him to go home and mind his own business. The Commission report has identified him as a wrongdoer. Then why delay taking action against him?” he asked taking aim directly at the former President.

In a fierce speech, the Archbishop gave an ultimatum to the Government to take tangible action against those responsible for the attacks, observing that buying time by appointing multiple committees would not serve the purpose.

“We will take to the streets if the law is not enforced against the culprits before April 21 this year. We will not remain silent on this. Remember that,” the Cardinal told a swarm of reporters from all media at the Church premises. This speech received wide publicity in the foreign Catholic-oriented media as well.

Despite the fiery comments of the Cardinal, the former President was cautious enough to appear undisturbed when the media followed him to a meeting of the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya (the SLFP affiliated trade union), the next day in Colombo. When pressed for a comment, the former President briefly said that he simply regrets the views expressed by the Cardinal. Speaking on behalf of his leader, SLFP General Secretary and State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara said the Cardinal’s words clearly had political connotations.

“The former President was not the one who set the bombs that killed all those people. The focus must be to find out the real culprits behind the attacks. When it comes to the failure to prevent the attacks, not only the former President, but the entire Government must be held responsible,” he replied the media.

With the intense pressure on from the Catholic community and various political quarters, these are certainly testing times for the Government. How the Government handles the Easter Sunday probes would be a litmus test of its integrity and success.