The aftermath of the suicide bombing of St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo in Sri Lanka that killed more than 100 people on Easter Sunday in 2019. (Photo: UCA News)
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is stepping up the pressure to find out the truth about who was behind last year's devastating Easter bombings in Sri Lanka.
Survivors are still seeking justice for the dead and wounded, demanding that the culprits who organized and financed the attacks be identified and prosecuted.
"We have to find out who they are. They should be punished regardless of their status. We should not take into account their influence and political capabilities. We have to tell the world who they are," 72-year-old Cardinal Ranjith said in a TV address..
"If any political leaders have any information about these heinous attacks and have just ignored it from top to bottom, they should be punished.
"This radical group wanted to create a big crisis among different ethnic and religious groups, but we defeated their ulterior motives with great patience."
On April 21, 2019, nine suicide bombers affiliated to local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 279 people including 37 foreign nationals and injuring at least 500.
Nationals from Japan, Switzerland, Spain, the UK, Denmark, Portugal, India, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, the US and China were among the dead.
Seven suicide bomb attacks were launched at two Catholic churches and one evangelical church in Batticaloa in the eastern part of the country between 8.45am and 9.30am on Easter Sunday.
In the aftermath, the public and religious leaders blamed politicians and government officials for failing to prevent the attacks.
Some of those injured in the bomb blasts are still hospitalized, while hundreds have been left disabled.
Sebastian Fernando, a survivor from Negombo, said everyone in his village is asking for one thing: punishment for those involved in these terrible acts. "If justice is to be done, that request must be fulfilled," he said.
According to some political analysts, the Easter attacks were linked to the presidential election in November 2019 when Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who announced his candidacy soon after the bombings, became president.
They claim that the entire political campaign was based on an anti-Muslim platform and a Sinhala Buddhist majority agenda to gain power.
Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns over the safety and security of the Muslim community after the Easter bombings.
"Sri Lankan authorities have a responsibility to prosecute those responsible for the horrific Easter Sunday attacks last year, but the arrests should be lawful, and not used to vilify an entire community," said Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director.
The United Nations issued a statement urging respect for rights, dialogue and the rule of law.
"Terrorism is fundamentally the denial and destruction of human rights, and the fight against terrorism requires strengthening those values that we want to protect," said the UN.
Michael Pompeo, secretary of the US Department of State, said these malicious attacks targeted churches and hotels, places where people go to worship and to relax on vacation.
"Just as the government of Sri Lanka works to hold those involved to account, the United States will not rest in its pursuit of justice for those who commit such atrocities," said Pompeo.
Buddhists make up the majority of Sri Lanka's population, while 9.7 percent are Muslim, 7.6 percent Christian and 12.6 percent Hindu.
Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, said legal punishment for those responsible has been thrown off track by the coronavirus crisis and other political interests.
“As a result, suspicion and hatred have been targeted at the entire Muslim community and in some areas systematic violence was directed at Muslim communities," he said.
"One of the main pledges of the 2019 presidential election was to bring justice to the affected people and to prosecute the offenders."
On April 21, places of worship nationwide rang bells at 8.40am, kept a two-minute silence at 8.45 and lit lamps and observed religious rites to commemorate the victims of the bombings.
Cardinal Ranjith said it is the government’s responsibility to bring all those responsible for the atrocity before the law.
"I request President Gotabaya Rajapaksa does not permit anyone to interrupt or halt the investigations," the prelate said.
"Our fund received 516 million rupees (US$2.67 million) and we have spent 372 million to look after the victims of the attacks. The balance of 144 million rupees is to be spent on their future prospects."