Support stymies arrest

It has become problematic for the Sri Lankan government to arrest and sentence the virulently anti-Muslim Buddhist monk, Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera ,General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), because he has influential supporters at home and abroad and the government itself considers the issue a political hot potato.

On Wednesday, the Colombo Fort Magistrate released Ven.Gnanasara Thera on bail in two cases relating to defamation of the Quran and an assault the organizers of the Jathika Bala Sena media conference held here in 2014.

Later in the afternoon, the monk was arrested by the Welikade police in another case. But he got bail in that case too.

Producing Ven.Gnanasara Thera before the court, Dy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Kamal de Silva of the Organized Crimes Division informed the court that police had no objections to granting bail to the defendant.

Colombo Additional Magistrate Buddhika Sri Ragala reminded the police that they had previously informed the court about the heinous comments made by the monk on torching mosques, and noting the seriousness of such statements he had issued an order of arrest. He asked the DIG as to why the police have no objection to granting him bail now.

DIG  de Silva replied that the police have no objection now as investigations pertaining to the incident have been completed.

The magistrate then inquired as why the police department does not follow this course of action in regard to other suspects.

DIG de Silva responded saying the police will attempt to follow the same action in regard to other suspects in the future.

The Additional Magistrate then stated that he was disappointed with the current state of the police department. But after considering the facts presented, he ordered the monk released on a personal bail of Rs 100,000 and two surety bails of Rs 100,000 each. The case was postponed to August 4.

Court of Appeal

Earlier, the Court of Appeal had refused to order the monk’s arrest in a Contempt of Court case filed by the Magistrate of the Homagama Court. Instead, it gave him five weeks extra time to appear before it. The court had issued summons three times before, and yet he had not appeared.

Ven.Gnanasara Thera’s Fundamental Rights petition against his arrest is coming up in the Supreme Court on Thursday. In the petition he had alleged that he is unable to appear in courts because there is a plot to assassinate him.

The apex court’s decision on his petition is expected to indicate the judiciary’s overall attitude him.

Support in Buddhist Hierarchy

Meanwhile, the monk has secured support from the Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter, the Most Venerable Warakagoda Gnanaratana Thera.

“Although we do not approve the aggressive behavior and speech of Bhikku Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, the viewpoint expressed by him cannot be discarded. Insulting Bhikkus by various groups without inquiring into the veracity of the issues raised by him cannot be condoned,” the Mahanayake said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Mahanayake highlighted concerns about the challenges posed by internal and external conspiracies against Sinhala Buddhists and emphasized the need for the Mahanayake Theras of the Three Nikayas and the “patriotic people” of the country, to act in unison to face such injustices.

“All other religious groups in the country should keep it in mind that Buddhists in Sri Lanka had always respected and allowed unhindered the existence of other religions. We condemn acts by other religious groups that insult this tolerant Buddhist ethic,” the statement further said.

India Factor

The rising anti-Islamic rhetoric and actions in Narendra Modi-ruled India as well as in the US and the West, have emboldened the BBS and influential elements in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe who are allegedly backing Ven.Gnanasara Thera.

The BBS on Wednesday released a letter written to the Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju by Dr.Santosh Rai, President of the New Delhi-based Hindu Mahasabha (Loktantrik), asking the Government of India to support the BBS and Ven.Gananasara Thera.

Dr.Rai described Ven.Gnanasara Thera as a  “prestigious monk” and said that he  should be supported because he has been a consistent advocate of good relations between India and Sri Lanka which have traditional cultural and religious ties.

The Hindu Mahasabha (Loktantrik) leader pointed out that Ven.Gnanasara Thera has raised his voice against radical Islamic actions; the habit of  defaming Buddhist monks; forced conversions and marrying non-Muslims to convert them to Islam (called Love Jihad in India).

Dr.Rai echoed the BBS’s charge that Muslim ministers in the Sri Lankan government are behind the defamation of Buddhist monks.

Political Calculation

The Sri Lankan government is hesitant to take action against Ven.Gnanasara Thera  apparently because of a fear that its support base among the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community will be eroded badly if he is imprisoned.

The fear is that the gainer will be the opposition stalwart, and  former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

President Sirisena told Muslims leaders, Ministers and civil society personalities at an Iftar party  recently, that a Buddhist-Muslim conflict is being fanned by forces which want to alienate the people from his government. He did not identify the forces but it was clear he was alluding to Rajapaksa and his cohorts.

Wahabi Factor   

However, at an earlier meeting with the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka and Muslim Ministers in his government, the President said that government is concerned about the increasing “Arabization” of Sri Lankan Muslim culture, and the spread of fundamentalist Wahabi Islam, especially in the Eastern Province.

In response, the Muslim Ministers said that if any Muslim is proven to have broken the law in any way, he should be punished in the way others are.

“We are not asking for any privileges, but only the Rule of Law”, the Muslim Ministers said. (newsin.asia)

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