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Easter attack suspects face special trial in Sri Lanka

Church questions whether cases to be filed against suspects include those who masterminded the attack

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: August 11, 2021 09:36 AM GMT

Updated: August 11, 2021 11:12 AM GMT

Easter attack suspects face special trial in Sri Lanka

Security personnel stand guard at St. Anthony's Church in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP)

The attorney general of Sri Lanka has requested the chief justice appoint a special trial-at-bar to hear cases against 25 suspects accused of involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks that killed 279 people including 37 foreign nationals.

The 23,270 charges filed include conspiracy, preparation, aiding and abetting, collection of explosives and weapons, murder and attempted murder.

Attorney General Sanjaya Rajaratnam sent indictments to Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya seeking the appointment of a trial-at-bar, which involves a hearing with three judges.

Senior attorney Hariguptha Rohanadheera, director general of legal affairs at the Presidential Secretariat, said the cases could be filed within a month.

"A request has been made to appoint a special trial-at-bar to hear cases against 25 suspects," Rohanadheera said in a letter to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith in response to a letter from bishops to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa urging action over the bombings.

Rohanadheera said steps have been taken on the instructions of the president to find those responsible for the attacks. 

More than two years have passed, some culprits have been arrested and some have suddenly been released

Catholic bishops sent a letter to President Rajapaksa on behalf of victims of the Easter Sunday attacks, warning that they would be forced to agitate for action through alternative ways if their ultimatum was not met. They urged President Rajapaksa to provide a credible answer to their letter.

They questioned whether the cases to be filed against suspects included those who masterminded the attacks.

"We are faced with the puzzle as to why and for what reason those in authority are delaying or neglecting their duty in implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which has cost the public millions of rupees," said the letter.

The father of Alaudeen Ahamed Musth, a suicide attacker who detonated a bomb at St. Anthony's Church, was acquitted of all charges against him. He had been remanded in custody for nearly two years.

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Bishops, civil rights activists and opposition parties have expressed concern over the investigation process.

Catholics have organized demonstrations to seek justice for victims in Negombo. Thousands of Catholics nationwide attended Sunday Mass dressed in black and protested against the lack of justice in March.

Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, former director of the National Catholic Center for Social Communications, said if the government fails to give justice to the Easter attack victims, the local Church will have to force it democratically.

Father Fernando said there was serious suspicion that the relevant agencies were not carrying out their duties properly in connection with the investigations.

Former cabinet minister Rishad Bathiudeen, who was detained for aiding and abetting the suicide bombers, was remanded until the case against him was concluded.

Josephin Ranasinghe, a local Catholic, said the victims had watched the drama unfold for more than two years with no satisfactory outcome.

"More than two years have passed, some culprits have been arrested and some have suddenly been released. Meanwhile, different stories come through the media," she said.

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