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Sri Lankan priest arrested over civil war event

Father Bhaskaran released on bail after organizing event to commemorate Tamil fighters killed during civil war

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: November 30, 2020 06:12 AM GMT

Updated: November 30, 2020 06:39 AM GMT

Sri Lankan priest arrested over civil war event

Sri Lanka's civil war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days. (Photo: YouTube)

A Catholic priest who organized an event to commemorate Tamil fighters who lost their lives during the 26-year civil war has been arrested.

Father Savary Muththu Bhaskaran, rector of St. Martin's Seminary in Jaffna, was released on bail on Nov. 28.

According to Father Ruban Mariampillai, media lecturer at the University of Jaffna and director of Bishop Savundram Media Center in Jaffna, the priest had displayed photographs of Tamils who had died during the civil war and had prepared candles to light outside the gate of the seminary.

"The priest was arrested on Nov. 27 and released the following day. He will have to appear before the court in May 2021," Father Mariampillai told UCA News.

"The priest had not invited any outsiders and there were two seminary laborers and seminary students attending the Heroes' Day event." 

Heroes' Day (Maaveera Naal) is observed by the Tamil community to mark the deaths of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants. It is celebrated each year on Nov. 27 at 6pm when oil lamps are lit to remember them.

Courts imposed a ban on Heroes' Day commemoration events.

The civil war began in 1983 when Tamil groups fought to carve out a separate homeland in the country’s north and east. In 2009, the government declared the end of the war after killing LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran

According to the UN, the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone, while other independent reports estimated the number of civilian deaths exceeded 100,000.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said Father Bhaskaran had planned to hold the celebration with another group and such events will never be allowed.

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Father Mariampillai said the lighting of the lamps was organized at 6pm but the priest was arrested around 5.30pm following a tip-off regarding the event.

Only the priest was arrested and posters, photographs and oil lamps were removed from the seminary gate, he added.

"These celebrations bring comfort to many parents who are living in trauma," said Nuwani Lakmali, a rights activist who works for inter-ethnic harmony.

"Some of the youths who died were forcibly taken in by the LTTE and some were involved due to ignorance. Reconciliation among these ethnic groups is essential but it's not even close." 

Hundreds of Tamil families in the north and east of Sri Lanka mark Heroes' Day at home after the government banned the remembrance.

Police and government lawyers argued that such events could lead to the revival of the LTTE or potentially cause disharmony among communities.

Four suspects were arrested on Nov. 27 for sharing posts related to LTTE commemoration on social media.

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