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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan cardinal: Ban parties based on religion and language

Cardinal Ranjith laments lack of progress in 2019 Easter bombing investigation

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Updated: August 31, 2020 05:28 AM GMT
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Sri Lankan cardinal: Ban parties based on religion and language

The aftermath of the bombing that killed 28 people at St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade in Colombo on Easter Sunday in 2019. (Photo: Niranjani Roland)

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Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has called on the Sri Lankan government to ban political parties that are based on religion and language.

The prelate said the presidential commission of inquiry into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks has only traced the names of politicians and bureaucrats who did not fulfill their responsibilities.

"People behind the scenes, who funded these attacks, who planted the bombs, have not been found," Cardinal Ranjith said in his address at the annual Sick Day at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka at Tewatta in Ragama, 20 kilometers north of capital Colombo, on Aug. 30.

The cardinal said he hopes that the promise given to the Church to find and punish those behind the Easter attacks will be fulfilled.

"If any government tries to hide and release the culprits without punishing, I will oppose that government. The previous government did not investigate the incidents properly," he said.

“Even though they knew about the attacks beforehand, they did not handle them properly. Members of the previous government are still trying to safeguard themselves. Everyone washed their hands and went home like Pontius Pilate.”

Nine suicide bombers affiliated to local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath attacked three churches and three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday last year, killing at least 269 people, including 37 foreign nationals, and wounding at least 500.

In the aftermath, the general public and religious leaders blamed politicians and government officials for failing to prevent the attacks.

Former defense secretary Hemasiri Fernando and former police chief Pujitha Jayasundara were remanded in custody for failing to inform the public and prevent the attacks despite receiving prior warning of a possible attack.

"There is a victim who lost his wife and three children. He still sleeps in the cemetery at night. Government officials and politicians do not understand this. This is not a matter of politics, this is a matter of humanity," said Cardinal Ranjith.

"It is wrong to base a political party on religion and language. I urge the government to ban all parties based on religion and language.

"About 30 years ago, a group of Christians came and told me that if we form a Christian party then we could win our religious rights. I told them to please leave because we don't need Christian political parties.

"This unity has been shattered since independence and today we debate issues such as what is the original language of this country, who are the original people, who owns the country.

"This partition began in the 1950s when we saw the error in deciding that only one language was the language of this country. It is really sad that we are still divided by race, religion and language.”

Cardinal Ranjith said many more would have been killed last year if a van parked by the side of St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade had exploded on Easter Sunday.

"It is now being revealed that they were preparing for a second attack. I hope that those who secretly conspired to do such things will be punished. Otherwise this incident may happen again," he said.

Cardinal Ranjith said some irresponsible officers are now "shedding crocodile tears" before the presidential commission.

Nuwan Rathnaweera, a university student, said officials go before the commission and shed tears but they should have acted to protect the lives of innocent people.

"Why did they not do their duty properly? Political party leaders have exploited the incident to gain votes," said Rathnaweera, a rights activist for victims.

"Some religious leaders demand justice from these corrupt political leaders and some Buddhist monks fight to go to parliament.

"Unfortunately, religious leaders have forgotten their duties to the people, while politicians misuse religious leaders for their benefit. People still wait for answers to many burning issues in the country." 

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