A roadside banner in Katuwapitiya, Negombo, commemorates the victims of last year’s Easter attacks. (Photo: UCA News)
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka has warned three auxiliary bishops of Colombo Archdiocese and former president Maithripala Sirisena to refrain from issuing press releases regarding the commission's hearings while it is still active.
Auxiliary bishops Maxwell Silva, Anthony Jayakody and Anton Ranjith issued a statement rejecting the claim made by Catholic MP Harin Fernando that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had been informed of impending terrorist attacks.
Fernando, a former cabinet minister, appeared before the commission and said Cardinal Ranjith had not conducted Mass in a public church on Easter Sunday morning because he was aware of the impending danger.
He called on the commission to investigate the non-holding of the main Mass, which is held every year.
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 and injuring about 500.
The general public as well as religious leaders blamed politicians and government officials for failing to prevent the attacks.
The bishops said Cardinal Ranjith celebrated Easter Sunday Mass on the evening of April 20 at St. Lucia's Cathedral, Kotahena, Colombo.
"Cardinal Ranjith also conducted Mass at the archbishop's residence on Easter Sunday, the day of the bombing," they said in their statement. "Neither Cardinal Ranjith nor the bishops nor any Catholic priests had prior knowledge of the attacks."
The prelates said they believe the government will take appropriate action against the perpetrators of this heinous crime as well as former political leaders who seriously neglected their responsibilities.
The commission has advised witnesses to refrain from issuing press releases regarding certain statements made to the panel. However, only Maxwell Silva appeared before the commission on Sept. 25.
Former president Sirisena did not appear before the commission and was represented by president's counsel Maithri Gunaratne.
According to Section 10 of the Commission Act, which has been amended from time to time, the commission has the power to punish a person who commits acts of contempt or disrespect. There is a possibility of referring the case to the Court of Appeal and imposing a penalty.