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And then they came for me...


The church and furniture in Talahena, Malabe, damaged by mobs on July 6 (inset) Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero and Ven. Galagodatta Gnasasara Thero

Attacks on churches on the rise again

Lawyer chased out by mob inside police station

Abeygunawardene asks church to
stop Sunday Service

Gotabaya concerned church attacks
will lead to international repercussions

A worried Basil moves to mediate

Champika says Christians would not
dare build churches in Muslim areas

 

By Sonali Samarasinghe

Attacks on Christian places of worship are on the rise again this time the flash point being Kalutara with Buddhist monk-led mobs allegedly issuing death threats to pastors. 

On the morning of August 3, as pastor Stanley Royston of the Assembly of God Church in Kalutara held his Sunday morning service Buddhist monks tried to storm the church with a mob.

As the police tried to hold back the marauders Nation Building Minister and Kalutara MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena's Secretary arrived on the scene. He dispersed the crowd requesting Pastor Royston to either meet at the temple or the Minister's house. Pastor Royston however requested a neutral spot and the next day, August 4, they met at the Town Hall.

Minister Abeygunawardena was present with the OIC of the area, other police officers and the government agent. The Minister however did not grant the pastor a hearing merely telling him he would have to shut down his church if he could not show registration papers with the Municipality and the Cultural Ministry.

Cultural Affairs Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena however already denied to The Sunday Leader that any such regulation concerning his Ministry existed regarding any place of worship.

Meanwhile earlier in July, Buddhist monks in the area had protested, calling for the closure of the church. The threats prompted Pastor Royston to lodge a complaint with the Kalutara North Police. On July 31, he was summoned to the police station for an inquiry and he went accompanied by his lawyer Prasanna Sandanayake.  

The duo were met by a host of Buddhist monks and an unruly mob inside the police station even as Buddhist monks manhandled the lawyer and chased him away. They also allegedly threatened the pastor with death as Acting OIC Bopitiya and other police officers watched helplessly.

The monks threatened the pastor not to conduct any more Sunday services and to close down the church the very next day. When the pastor tried to speak about his right to minister to the congregation they whipped out a letter from the Municipality stating the church was not registered with them.

With the situation becoming untenable the AOG church was compelled to retain legal counsel and on August 5, Denzil Gunaratne PC together with senior lawyer Asoka Weerasuriya were to make legal representations to the Attorney General, C.R. De Silva on behalf of the church.

Ironically the church had been in existence for as long as independent Sri Lanka, since 1948. The current pastor who heads the church, Pastor Stanley Royston had pastored the church since 1995. According to the written submissions made to the AG, the Assembly of God church is an internationally recognised entity since 1921 and incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1948.

The letter called for the Attorney General to instruct the police, DIG Chandana Wickremaratne and the SSP Kalutara to ensure that the right of worship of the pastor and the congregation is upheld, especially for the Sunday service of August 10.  

On Sunday 10, a mob was to proceed towards the church with intent to create havoc but the service went deliberately undisturbed as police protection had by this time been provided following representations made to the Attorney General. Thereafter, throughout the week demonstrations had been held against the church up until the time of writing.    

It is learnt that churches are now also seeking the advice of other senior counsel such as Faisz Musthapha in order to counter through the law of the land a wave of rights abuse that is set to take place in the near future. 

     With the attacks increasing in intensity and frequency and an environment of oppression prevalent, many of these churches have been compelled to take up their case in courts of law while others have appealed to the Attorney General to take action and petitioned President Mahinda Rajapakse.

 President Rajapakse's wife is a devout Catholic and his three sons have been educated at one of the most prominent Anglican schools in the country, S. Thomas' College.

The latest modus operandi for oppression say sources, is multi pronged. First there are allegations of churches harbouring LTTE terrorists. The second is trotting out little known or non existent rules and regulations at Municipality level in order to curtail religious freedom.

For instance say sources, churches seeking to expand their building are told by the UDA that no expansion whatsoever can be carried out unless 66% of the local population approves of it. With only 7% Christians in the country, such an approval rating, given the enmity and insecurity that has been fuelled by a nationalistic government, would be nigh impossible.

Registration required

Churches are also surprised by questions such as whether they are registered with the Cultural Ministry. The Sunday Leader contacted Cultural Affairs Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena who denied his Ministry had any such rule for any places of worship. But this lack of uniformity even in government and an atmosphere of chaos that informs every aspect of this regime, is prevalent even in such areas as local government regulations. (See interviews elsewhere on this page) 

Thirdly, the congregations, mostly poor folk, are allegedly harassed in their day to day lives, some unable to even buy groceries, rent houses, send their children to the local school, get a Christian burial or carry a Bible in their hands. 

Many of these churches have also been told that no religious place of worship can be built unless on an extent of a minimum of 40 perches. This of course is ridiculous considering that many of these churches will not have the finances to purchase such large lands and neither will such huge expanses be available in urban areas.

Sources also point out that several Buddha statues erected sans UDA approval at roundabouts and street corners often create traffic congestion and obstruction as they become places of worship on several days including Poya days. (Please see interview elsewhere on this page)

It is as the hate pot threatens to boil over that even such known hardliners as Gotabaya Rajapakse has taken a step back to think, reportedly agreeing with concerned parties that something needs to be done about it.  

Be that as it may let's cut to the chase. This is a country of converts. If the extremists who cry out against freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of thought in the name of political expediency and ultra nationalism, spent more time in libraries reading the Mahavamsa and less time on the streets under mob rule they would see that it was King Devanampiyatissa in 247BC who became indeed the first convert to Buddhism at that most revered place in Mihintale. Arahat Mahinda was a worthy missionary and his father Emperor Asoka was intent on the propagation of Buddhism across the known world.

Converted to Buddhism

Forgetting that this country was converted to Buddhism as well, priests in Middeniya this June shouted out against conversion in a frenzy. They allegedly dragged a cross on a tractor and burnt it in the town square. They stoned the Middeniya Assembly of God pastor's house.

A rally against conversion was also held on July 20 at the Talahena junction in Malabe led by prominent Buddhist monks in the area.

Pastors vehemently refute the allegation of proselytising. "If they are becoming Christians they are doing it of their own free will," says Pastor Roshan. Many of these evangelical churches in rural towns are dirt poor. "They have no money to give or to entice anyone away from their faiths or philosophies," explains a convert who wishes to remain anonymous fearing reprisals. Pastor Roshan concurs. "Far from giving them money it is they who give us a small token during collection on a Sunday if they can," he says.  

But it is not just Talahena and Middeniya that have come under attack. There is a pattern of intolerance that has now spilled over to other minority religions as well. There are allegations that villagers professing the Christian faith are increasingly facing ridicule.

Reports have been coming in and documented by such organisations as the National Christian Fellowship, of Christians who face hardship in renting houses and attending to their day to day needs like buying groceries which are refused to them if they are identified as converts. Children of Christians are forced to worship statues by their teachers or refused entry into schools.

There are also reports according to Pastor Rohan Ekanayake, secretary, National Christian Fellowship, of Buddhist monks preventing Christian burials of converted Christians with allegations that corpses are forcibly taken and buried according to Buddhist rites against the will of the family. 

Oppression spilling over

This oppression is spilling over to other religions as well. SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem says there is a pattern of oppression that emerges when it comes to minority religions. This is prevalent mainly at the time when building permits are needed and UDA approval is sought, he says.

A top government ministerial source confirmed this recent environment of oppression identifying it as a dangerous trend that must be nipped in the bud. The source also cited an incident involving a mosque in Dehiwela and several other incidents.   

The danger is that there is a method in this madness. A method formulated by the extremists within this regime. It is learnt that these extremists intent to sell this plan to President Rajapakse by bombarding him with statistics including unverified stats such as that 7% of Muslims own 28% of land in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile already the fissures with regard to the ethnic issue have emerged prominently in government.

A group led by Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse and supported by many of the UNP dissidents favour a moderate approach. Another more formidable group led by the likes of extremist thinkers like JHU's Champika Ranawaka having the support of the JVP defector group NFF led by Wimal Weerawansa and such groups as the Patriotic National Movement (PNM) are intent on working to a systematic plan of  destruction and oppression.

Little wonder then that when the Assembly of God Church in Kalutara was attacked by Buddhist monks in the area and threatened with closure it was to Basil Rajapakse that they turned. The younger Rajapakse had in fact given Pastor Royston of the Kalutara church a patient hearing promising to address their concerns.

Even Gotabaya Rajapakse was shaken. When concerned moderate ministerial elements in his own camp spoke to him about the oppression of Christians Gotabaya was to nod his head agreeing that the present atmosphere of oppression was causing ripples in the international community. It was a sentiment he would express even to IANS following Indian Security Advisor Narayanan's statement after the SAARC Summit.

Sri Lanka may win the battle against the Tamil Tigers but not the war as "they haven't got the Tamil population on their side," Narayanan was to tell IANS in an interview published last Tuesday.

Narayanan was to astutely capture the mood of the minorities when he said, "What the Sri Lankans are not factoring in is the great deal of sullenness in the Tamil man. There are accusations of profiling even in Colombo. Our argument is: unless you give Tamils a feeling they have the right to their own destiny in many matters you will not succeed. The LTTE's capacity to carry out terrorist attacks is not diminished," he said.

Folly

Gotabaya too realising the folly of alienating not only the world but all of Sri Lanka's minorities reportedly told IANS, "If Tamils indeed are not with us, then it is our weakness."

The Defence Secretary has however not even come close to assessing the massive displeasure this country would have to face if it piled up on top of its horrendous human rights record, its culture of impunity, its disregard for the media, the fact that 12 media personnel have been murdered in two years, the abductions, the white vans and what not, a culture of religious intolerance and oppression. Of the 12 indicators used to assess failed state status where currently Sri Lanka is number 20 on the index, religious intolerance is one.

Already the country's track record on bribery and corruption has taken a severe hit. Little help it is that the likes of impugned Secretary to the Treasury, Punchi Banda Jayasundera, the likes of scoundrels like Mervyn Silva are countenanced, nay hailed as heroes and validated as worthy public servants by their political masters.

The myopic self serving policies of successive Bandaranaikes succeeded in chasing away the Burghers of this country, a community that enriched our proudly multi ethnic, multi religious composition, the massive brain drain of Tamil professionals in 1983, the fleeing of several academics and worthy citizens after the dark days of the late '80s - these are incidents that should be never repeated.

One may perhaps not be faulted for looking at this latest anti Christian trend in the same light. While Christianity is often looked upon with  suspicion it is not to prestigious non Christian schools but to C.M.S. Ladies College, Colombo 7, S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia and Trinity College, Kandy that non Christian parents strive to have their children enter. There must be a reason for this frenzy during school admission year.

Perhaps it is the level of education, the discipline, the values, the quality. Perhaps it is the prestige. Perhaps it is none of these things.who knows. But imagine for a moment this. Imagine a Sri Lanka without Christianity. A Sri Lanka sans the grandeur and pomp of a Vel festival. Imagine if you will a country without the crescent and the moon. You will imagine sans doute  - a nation of desolation. 

As much as this country is known for the serenity and beauty of the Buddhist temple, the magnificence of the Aukana Buddha and the peace and tolerance of the Buddhist monk and the strength of the Buddhist precepts of non violence, it is known for its diversity of culture and religion.

But why it now becomes important to bring in the ethnic issue is because terrorism has become a convenient peg to hang an extremist argument on. 

Just as much as opposition politicians gave lists of their political enemies calling them insurgents and JVP operatives during the dark era of the late '80s when Black Cats prowled the south, just as much as many rid themselves of nuisances in the form of political and personal enemies in those days by merely labelling them JVP cell members, there is now a pattern of labelling certain Christian churches, especially evangelical churches, as terrorists. And therein lies the danger.  

Ven. Galagodatta Gnanasara Thero in an interview with The Sunday Leader last month was to allege that these pastors have terrorist connections. He cited the incident of two pastors in Wattala who were caught with suicide bomb kits.

Pastor Roshan of Talahena, a Burgher who is mainly conversant in Sinhala was shocked at the allegation. "I don't know anything about any Wattala incident but we are open at all times," he says. "The authorities can check us out at any time and we will cooperate. How can you say pastors have such connections?"

Pastor Rohan Ekanayake of the Margaya Fellowship of Sri Lanka pastoring a church in Mirihana is also shocked stating there should be no labelling or tarring of churches in this manner. 

His church too has come under heavy attack. In a letter to President Rajapakse on February 11 regarding an extension of the church premises he explains that the Margaya Fellowship is a Christian denomination in existence for over 30 years and incorporated by an Act of Parliament with 50 churches in eight provinces and 17 districts.   

In 1992 a building plan had been approved with construction to be carried out in three stages of which two stages had been completed and Certificate of Conformity given. The third stage was delayed due to lack of finances and in August 2007 the church had approached the Maharagama Urban Council (MUC) to commence work on the third stage, and a new application and plan given to the technical officer for approval considering the lapse in time in December 2007.

Following this church members and the pastor had a chat with the Chairperson of the MUC, Kanthi Kodikara where she had informed them that a petition against the building project had been received and no approval could be given.

Frivolous

Pastor Ekanayake states the petition had been signed by some 84 persons of whom only about seven or eight were from the same locality. 

The letter to the President stated, "The accusations that were supposed to be in the petition and mentioned by the Mayor are frivolous and have nothing to do with the construction project itself" and added "We are aware of the great responsibility that you carry in trying to resolve the conflict that we are faced with in Sri Lanka and assure you of our continuous prayers."

Shockingly, sources allege that officers in the Maharagama Urban Council had said that even though the Anti Conversion Bill could not be brought in through parliament its provisions would be implemented by the people. (See interview with Kodikara)

Indeed President Rajapakse has pledged in his Mahinda Chinthana to respect all ethnic and religious identities stating it is through Mettha, Muditha and Karuna that the civilisation of this country was built. He has pledged to treat all regions including Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity on an equal footing.

That there is hatred and intolerance towards other religions as the government propagates a policy of extremism is evident. If there was a time for this nation to tear off the livery worn by the servants of ignorance and extremism, the raiment donned by those who have made nationalism the new F-word in the world of tolerance and democracy, then this time is surely that time.

Religious Affairs Ministry promised to hold an inquiry
- Nation Building Minister

NATION Building Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena, while refuting allegations levelled against him for demanding the Assembly of God to stop their Sunday Service, told The Sunday Leader that he at any time did not instruct the church to stop Sunday Service but he was instrumental in informing the Religious Affairs Ministry about this particular illegal church.

"This is an illegal church as they do not posses the required registration documents. Now we have learnt that the Religious Affairs Ministry has ordered both the temple and the church not to create any issues but to be calm until necessary steps are taken by the Ministry," Abeygunawardena said.

 "As a responsible government minister I did not intervene but the neighbourhood and the temple requested me to make representations to get the government's support to put a halt to conversions. Since this church has already converted many, Sinhalese in the locality did not wish to see this happening further and that is why all this started," added Abeygunawardena.

 

Minimum land extent for a religious place is 40 perches

Secretary, Urban Development and Sacred Area Development Ministry, Dr. P. Ramanujam told The Sunday Leader that the minimum land extent for a religious place should be 40 purchases. "Forty purchases is the minimum requirement for any religious place," Dr. Ramanujam said.

Meanwhile when asked whether there is a UDA regulation that a church could only be built in an area where 66% of the population are Christians, Dr. Ramanujam said that there is no such UDA regulation but there is a need to have a majority population to get clearance.

 

Attacks on churches

May 2008:  Nugegoda

June 2008: Ampara

June 2008: Middeniya

July 2008: Talahena, Malabe

Ingiriya - Sabaragamuwa Province

Matugama - Western Province

Weeraketiya - Southern Province

August 2008: Kalutara

 

Identified rights violations against Christians in Sri Lanka

Concerned Christian sources have identified problem areas that they claim need to be addressed immediately as follows: 

Local Government

Whenever an attack on a church occurs, the police and local government officials ask for the 'registration' of a church with the provincial council even though such registration is neither required by law nor indicated in any legally acceptable document.

Christian burial

Many Christians, particularly converts, living in predominantly Buddhist areas have been refused the right to a Christian burial. One such incident was featured on BBC. There are many instances on record where Christians have been refused burial by the local Buddhist priests who have proceeded to 'hijack' the body to perform Buddhist funeral rites forcibly.

Fair trial

There are many cases on record where Christians have allegedly been denied their right to a fair  investigation. Law enforcement authorities allegedly resort to misusing the existing clauses of the Sri Lankan constitution to prosecute Christian workers. For instance, Section 81 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which provides for binding over those liable to cause a "breach of peace," is used unfairly to deal with situations where Christian workers have been the victims, permitting the perpetrators to go free.

Section 98 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which deals the abatement of a nuisance in relation to noise and environmental pollution, has been invoked to legally restrict church worship. Churches have been forced to close down or ordered to stop their meeting by police in many areas on the basis of a challenge to the legal validity of such places of worship.

Although over 200 cases of arson, attacks, assault, death threats and damage to property and lives against Christians have been recorded during the last two years alone, hardly any indictments have been initiated even though in many cases the attackers have been identified. Church workers, their families and believers have been harassed and threatened, especially in rural areas. Law enforcement authorities issue injunction orders under section 106 (1) of the Penal Code to stop churches conducting services.

Anti Conversion Bill 

Local government authorities such as provincial councils have unofficially stated that some of the legal measures recommended under the Anti Conversion Bill have already been introduced. For example the 66%  population ruling conveyed to Margaya Church in Nugegoda.

 Religious cleansing and refusal of building permits for churches/housing for Christians

Churches are allegedly refused building permits for places of worship by local government authorities on the pretext of preserving religious harmony. Churches wishing to construct their places of worship have been asked to obtain prior approval from the Religious Affairs Ministry although there is no constitutional requirement to do so. Buddhist landlords are directly pressurised by the local Buddhist monks to evict Christian tenants/not to rent houses to Christians/to sell land to Christians.

Church properties, places of worship and personal belongings of workers and believers have been damaged and destroyed. The provision for legislation could be activated on the basis of maintaining religious harmony. In  rural areas and some urban areas as well there is an effort to prevent Christians from leasing or purchasing property, violating the rights of Christians to live anywhere in the country.

Denied right to Christian education

Christian children attending state schools are openly denied their right to study Christianity; in certain instances, they are forced not only to study Buddhism but to also practice/follow traditions such as worshipping statues. The children of new converts have been denied the right to follow Christianity in their school on the pretext that the child's birth certificate indicates he is a Buddhist.

Christian children are refused access to some government schools on the pretext that there are no teachers to teach Christianity. The Catholic Principal of St. Joseph's Convent, Nugegoda, a Colombo suburb, was dismissed by authorities for adhering to the officially recognised 8% allocation for Christian children. (She has since been reinstated.) Government owned schools openly refuse to admit Christian children.

Christian government servants under pressure

All police officers irrespective of their religious beliefs have been forced to contribute every month towards the Police Buddhist Fund under specific instructions from the current IGP. The JHU is reportedly planning to exert pressure on the government not to pay government pensions to Christian government officials on their retirement on the basis that Christians receive remuneration from NGOs.


Objections must be  considered - Kanthi Kodikara

Interviews by Nirmala Kannangara

Chairperson, Maharagama Urban Council (MUC), Kanthi Kodikara told The Sunday Leader that the MUC will not give permission to construct or extend any church if  there are objections from the people in the locality.

"Since Maharagama is a predominantly Buddhist area, whenever there is a plan to build a church the people in the locality object to the proposal. When such things happen we have to take the objections into consideration and act accordingly," Kodikara said.

When queried why the MUC refused to approve the extension of the Margaya Church Kodikara said that she was not aware of the matter adding that if it was not allowed it would have been due to objections from the neighbourhood and not for any other reason.

"I cannot remember the particular incident but whenever there is a request for any construction we always forward that to a special board and once we give notice to the public, if we receive any objections during the stipulated time frame, we take necessary steps to prevent religious clashes," Kodikara further stated.

According to Kodikara this is the common practice since of late and even Buddhists too are at the receiving end most of the time.

"Recently there was a request from the villagers in Pamunuwa, Maharagama to rename a certain road after the chief incumbent of the temple. But since there was a huge protest and objections we had to stop it. What happened to the proposal to construct the Presidential Palace in Madiwela? Although it was a government plan it had to be abandoned due to public protests. So whenever there is an objection for any religious centre - be it a Buddhist temple, church, mosque or a kovil we have had to act according to public opinion," Kodikara said.

 

"Church had no registration"

While refuting the allegations levelled against the Buddhists in Sirinivasa Mawatha, Kalutara South by a certain group of Christians, Ven. Seevali Thero of the Gangarama Viharaya, Kalutara South told The Sunday Leader that a tense situation arose between the Buddhists and the Assembly of God, Kalutara South due to illegal conversions by the church.

"This is a predominantly Buddhist area from the past and since the recent past we have noticed that the AOG has started converting Buddhists. Even though two poor Buddhist families living in Sirinivasa Mawatha were converted to Christianity we were still unruffled. In the meantime this particular church kept on converting Buddhists in Yatadola Watte, Bulathsinhala and Aluthgama which irked the neighbourhood. But still we remained silent. Recently there was a minor accident and the people in the church rushed to the scene and started assaulting the young boys who were Buddhists. The same evening the church entertained these Buddhist boys and their families. This made the people suspicious wondering whether they too would be converted. Immediately the people lodged a complaint with the police and that was how all this started," the Ven. Thero stated.

According to Ven. Seevali Thero, the next day - July 31 the two parties were summoned to the police and the people from Sirinivasa Road had requested the Buddhist monks to accompany them to the police.

"At their request the Buddhist monks too went to the police station and the pastor too came with a lawyer. The crowd chased the lawyer away and since the church failed to produce the church licence this was referred to the District Secretariat," the Thero said.

When questioned whether there is a necessity to get the church registered with the local councils the Thero said that it was compulsory.

"Yes, it is an existing procedure and the since the church failed to produce the registration document the Government Agent, and Nation Building Minister and Kalutara District UPFA Parliamentarian Rohitha Abeygunawardena requested the church in question to stop the Sunday Mass until the church gets the legal authority to function as a church," the Thero added.

 

No such regulation in force - Secretary, LG and PC Ministry

Secretary, Local Government and Provincial Council Ministry, Casian Herath when asked whether churches have to be registered with local councils told The Sunday Leader that he had no idea about any such requirement.

"I doubt whether there is such a regulation in the Provincial Council Act as this is the first time that I am being  asked whether there is such a regulation. To my knowledge there is no such clause but if your paper really needs to clarify please call on me with a written request. Then I will let you know the details," Herath said.

 

IGP wants Rs. 20 for Buddhist Fund from police personnel

Since the new IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne assumed office he has directed all police officers, irrespective of their religion, to contribute Rs.20 towards the Police Buddhist Fund reliable police sources told The Sunday Leader.

"Earlier, the present IGP was the President, Police Buddhist Society and since he assumed office all the officers in the Police Department, irrespective of their religious beliefs were ordered to contribute Rs.20 every month towards the Police Buddhist Fund which is unreasonable. Since there is no option officers of all other religions  too contribute towards this fund," the sources added.

 

Not compulsory -Spokesperson

POLICE Spokesperson SSP Ranjith Gunasekera however told The Sunday Leader that the Police Buddhist Association (PBA) has requested police officers to contribute towards the PBA fund but it was not a directive by the IGP.

"The IGP has not issued any directives to the department but only the PBA has appealed to the officers to contribute towards the fund to do charity. No one is forced to contribute towards this worthy cause," added SSP Gunasekera.

 

Approval not necessary for construction
- DCG, Department of Buddhist Affairs

Deputy Commissioner General, Department of Buddhist Affairs, Chinthaka Kularatne told The Sunday Leader that there is no necessity to get permission from any department before constructing a temple.

"The temples always get registered after the construction as it helps to receive government assistance when the temple needs any future state support. Other than that there is no necessity to get the temple registered," Kularatne said.

However Kularatne further said that wayside Buddha statues and also Buddhist monasteries do not need to get registered as they are not places of worship but only small caves to enable the priests to meditate.

 

Churches need prior registration - Department of Christian Religious Affairs 

Director, Department of Christian Religious Affairs, A.R. Gunawardena however told The Sunday Leader that churches need the Government Agent's and respective local government institutions' approval before building.

"This is applicable not only for churches but also when erecting a statue in a town," Gunawardena added.  

All attempts to contact the Departments of Muslim Religious Affairs and Hindu Religious Affairs by The Sunday Leader failed.


It's compulsory to get religious places registered - Champika Ranawaka

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Environment Minister and JHU Parliamentarian Champika Ranawaka said that irrespective of any religion all places of worship should be registered with their respective local government authority.

When asked as to when this ruling was enforced Minister Ranawaka said that it was not introduced recently but was made compulsory some time back.

"This is not new but has been existing for some time. This applies to all religious institutions - be it a Buddhist temple, Christian church, mosque, kovil or even a Buddhist monastery. The particular institution first needs to get approval from the respective Divisional Secretary, then from the local authority and finally from the Religious Affairs Ministry. This is the law of the land. Even Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in a court ruling clearly stated that all the religious places should  get registered with the local authority," Ranawaka said.

Meanwhile when queried about the JHU's involvement in the present wave of religious intolerance, while refuting the allegations Minister Ranawaka further said that Buddhist monks have never created mayhem but it was the churches that make the Buddhists impatient.

"It was the church that started conversions and would any person tolerate such illegal activity? Let the Christians go to a Muslim dominated area and build a church or even convert Muslims. The consequences would be disastrous. There are many instances where Muslims have killed Christians who have tried to build churches in Muslim areas and those who have tried to convert Muslims," the Minister said.

Meanwhile when asked whether the JHU is planning to exert pressure on the government not to pay government pensions to Christian officials on their retirement on the basis that the Christians receive remunerations from NGOs, Minister Ranawaka said that the JHU as a democratic party has no intention of making such a request.

"It is the right of the government officers. Be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims or Hindus after serving the government they should be paid alike," Ranawaka said.   

  


Govt. put on notice over PB's case


Jayantha Wickremaratne
and P.B. Jayasundera

By  Sonali Samarasinghe

The recent Supreme Court judgment impugning Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera of not acting in the public interest in contracting a privatisation deal with John Keells Holdings while even gifting JKH a valuable land for free as part of the deal is continuing to cause ripples, with senior government officials now put on notice to take action on the judgment.

Chairman Bribery Commission Justice Ameer Ismail, Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickremaratne and the Attorney General have been put on notice by lawyers acting on behalf of Petitioner Vasudeva Nanayakkara while the Bribery Chairman and IGP have been warned contempt proceedings will be initiated against them if they do not take action as per the findings of the judgment.

Undoubtedly P.B. Jayasundera as a public official has a greater level of responsibility to protect public property and act in the public interest. So much so the Supreme Court of the land held him to not only have colluded with a private entity to the detriment of the public but to also have acted arbitrarily ultra vires and in a biased manner to secure an illegal advantage to a private company for whatever reason.

It is the magnitude of the man's actions that caused the apex court to direct Jayasundera to pay Rs. 500,000 compensation to the state. It is the enormity of his conduct that prompted the court in the final sentence of the July 21 judgment, couched in mandatory language to caution all parties to the proceedings to take necessary action on the basis of the findings.

Final report of COPE

Earlier in 2007 the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) in its final report under the chairmanship of Wijedasa Rajapakshe had already impugned the Lanka Marie Services Privatisation deal.

In its concluding paragraph of the report on the LMSL privatisation COPE stated;

"This transaction has been executed blatantly without cabinet approval with several flaws causing loss and detriment to the government and demonstrating it to be a questionable 'fix' and is therefore ab initio - bad in law, null and void."

The court would go many steps further. It would lampoon the Treasury Secretary stating the steps taken by Jayasundera and PERC were in no way mandated by the decision of the cabinet of ministers and manifestly contrary to the process that had been authorised. The judgment specifically alluded to illegal procurements, to contrivance, to manipulation, misrepresentation to cabinet and misleading the government.

But what is even more damning is the last sentence of the judgment which states that "all parties to the proceedings will take necessary action on the basis of the findings stated above." This is a telling sentence given that of the 31 respondents some were more crucial than others as far as Punchi Banda Jayasunderawas concerned.

The Bribery Commissioner, the BOI Chairman, Director General Securities Exchange Commission, the Criminal Investigations Department, COPE Chairman, the Attorney General and most importantly Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga are named as respondents. The respondents are legally bound to take necessary action based on the directions in the judgment.

Cock a snook

However, far from taking any action on this errant officer President Mahinda Rajapakse was to cock a snook at the judiciary in general and at the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Sarath Silva in particular as he proffered a pardon to Minister Arumugam Thondaman, ignored the judgment concerning Punchi Banda Jayasundera and instead decided to take the Treasury Secretary with him to the Olympic Games.

With a sly wink at Jayasundera, President Rajapakse ordered a committee to study all privatisation deals and submit a report as he tossed out PBJ's facetious letter of resignation into the nearest WPB

He then proceeded to include Jayasundera in several meetings he had with China's President and other government officials where he was to discuss several large projects.

Likely to cause embarrassment to Sri Lanka, at his bilateral discussions with China's Commerce Minister Chen Deming, it was Punchi Banda who sat in with the President as he reiterated the importance of the Chinese funded projects in Sri Lanka's development process including the Colombo Katunayake Expressway, Puttalam Coal Power - Phase II and III, and the Hambantota oil tank and bunkering project. When he met the President, Exim Bank, Li Ruogu, to review funding by China it was Punchi Banda Jayasundera who stood by his side.

But even as he was showcasing Punchi Banda in this way a copy of the Supreme Court judgment had been dispatched to several key persons in China.

International bodies

Former PERC Chairman, Nihal Amarasekera who assisted Petitioner Vasudeva Nanayakkara in the LMSL case was to forward to relevant international bodies the said judgment. Amarasekera is a member of the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management (ICGFM), International Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA).

The President of ICGFM, Beatriz C. Casals on August 7 replied to Amarasekera thanking him for bringing the judgment to the organisation's notice. The letter states that as Sri Lanka was ranked in place 20 in the Failed States Index 2008 by Foreign Policy this kind of attention to good governance will help the country improve its image in the international community.

And there lies the rub.

Ironically, while the President of the ICGFM hailed the judgment as one which may help Sri Lanka slide down the Failed State Index of which currently it holds pride of place among the top 20, the very subject of that judgment was being proudly showcased in China as Rajapakse's right hand financial expert.

Sans doubt it would help if perhaps President Rajapakse did not treat the judiciary with such contempt. Surely the actions of the government in continuing to countenance the likes of Jayasundera even validating his position and throwing egg in the face of the Supreme Court by taking him to high level meetings in China merely pushes Sri Lanka further up on the Failed States Index rather than help improve its image.

Dispatched documents

Amarasekera having dispatched these documents to the relevant authorities in his capacity as member of the ICGFM and IAACA was to also fire two emails to Gotabaya Rajapakse and Lalith Weeratunga in order to apprise them and President Rajapakse of the situation.

He stated that he had already dispatched the judgment to the authorities in China and expected his communications to be disseminated among the relevant Chinese hierarchy and circulated among their international members. He also stated a synopsis of the judgment was likely to be reported in publications circulated to the members of these international organisations.

Funnily enough the President of IAACA happens to be Jia Chunwang, the Prosecutor General of the Supreme People's Procurate of China, while IAACA's Secretary General just happens to be Dr. Ye Feng, who is also the Vice President, International Association of Prosecutors, and the International Director of Asia Crime Prevention Foundation, a Member of the Prosecuting Committee of the Supreme People's Procurate China, and the Director General of the International Judicial Cooperation Department, China.

Harsh punishment

That IAACA was inaugurated in October 2006 in Beijing by none other than President Hu Jintao is significant given that the penalty for embezzlement, bribery, corruption, illegal financial schemes, graft and profiteering in China is death.

Such harsh punishment aside Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Corruption of December 2005. Already Vasudeva Nanayakkara's lawyers have sent out a Letter of Notice to the Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal with regard to Jayasundera's continuation on the Monetary Board in the light of the landmark judgment.

Legal experts told this newspaper that a failure on the part of these respondents to take action may in fact tantamount to contempt of court.

Be that as it may last week Petitioner Vasudeva Nanayakkara, through his lawyers Abdeen Associates, was to send out letters of notice to several key respondents.

It is significant that Attorney General C.R. De Silva was also put on written notice dated August 14. The letter of notice attached copies of letters sent to the Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickremaratne, Deputy Inspector General of Police Sisira Mendis, Chairman Bribery Commission Justice Ameer Ismail, and Director General Securities and Exchange Commission Channa de Silva.

The letter put the Attorney General on notice of the contents of the letters to the aforesaid persons requiring him to cause warranted actions to be taken for the enforcement of the law in terms of the direction in the Supreme Court judgment.

Relevant documentation

A copy of the AG's letter was also sent to Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Suhada Gamlath.

The letter to IGP Wickremaratne and DIG Mendis attaches a copy of the judgement and states that other relevant documentation such as the petition and affidavit of the petitioner Vasudeva Nanayakkara and the affidavit of Nihal Amarasekera, the 22nd respondent in the case who assisted the petitioner as former PERC chairman have already been served to them and would be in their offices.

The letter points out the several findings of wrongdoing and illegal and unlawful conduct which are of a grave and serious nature and states that it warrants immediate action in terms of Offences Against Public Property Act No. 12 of 1982 under the following broad offences

 Mischief to Public Property

 Theft of public property

 Robbery of public property

 Misappropriation or criminal breach of trust of public property

 Cheating, forgery or falsification in relation to public property

 Attempting to commit any one of the above offences.

The letter also draws their attention to the provisions of the Penal Code dealing with the contempt of lawful authority of public servants, and false evidence, and offences against public justice.

Put  on notice

The letters go on to state; "We hereby put you on notice of the Supreme Court direction in the penultimate paragraph of the aforesaid judgment viz - 'All parties to the proceedings will take necessary action on the basis of the findings stated above.' You being one of the parties to the aforesaid proceedings, thus and thereby stood and stand bound, to have taken necessary action, under and in terms of the law, which you are bounden in duty to enforce.

"Inasmuch as there have been ample instances of cases of far less gravity, seriousness and comparatively of trivia, which your offices have acted with questionable haste, which such instance our client does not wish to state herein, our client is appalled by the fact that even in the face of the Supreme Court judgment, you have failed and neglected to date, now for a period of over three weeks, to have taken warranted action in terms of the law, to enforce the rule of the law, irrespective of the personalities concerned.

"You are hereby put on notice that should you continue to be indifferent to the findings and the said direction in the aforesaid Supreme Court judgment and fail to take any action, without any further delay as warranted in terms of the law our client will be compelled to initiate contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court on this matter."

The letters of notice to Bribery Chairman Justice Ameer Ismail and to DG, SEC are of similar tenor and contain the last three paragraphs as quoted above putting these officers on notice of an initiation of contempt proceedings should they fail to act.

Copies of these letters of notice were sent to Secretary Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapakse, Chairman SEC, Gamini Wickremesinghe and Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga. 

 Copy dispatched to Auditor General

Meanwhile not making either Punchi Banda's or Percy Rajapakse's life any easier Nihal Amarasekera was to also dispatch a copy of the judgment on August 14 to Auditor General S. Swarnajothy for his information and necessary action. Amarasekera went further. He also dispatched relevant documentation to Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, J.D. Bandaranayake and to Secretary, Ministry of Public Administration, D. Dissanayake.    

He called on Dissanayake as the promoter of the Clean Hands Organisation to appreciate that in promoting this concept the head of the public service must also be clean.

Amarasekera's July 24 email to Dissanayake states that the dicta of the judgment reveals that the head has a cancerous brain tumor which has to be first got rid of before the hands are clean.

"Your Minister having submitted the cabinet memorandum 'washed his hands off and did not endeavour to rectify the wrong," it further states.  The Minister of Public Administration is none other than UNP dissident Karu Jayasuriya.  

 


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