A monk's arrest that stumped the JHU
Sarath N. Silva, Ven. Pannala
and Suhada Gamlath
By Vimukthi Yapa
The Buddhists of Sri Lanka should perhaps
shed bitter tears for what Sri Lanka has
become and how a section of the Buddhist
clergy, by no means the majority, dabbles in
politics in a way that embarrasses those who
want to believe in the Buddha putras and
consider religion to be above partisan
There is no gainsaying that much of the
Sinhala Buddhists in the Western Province
more than others, welcomed the advent of the
all monk outfit, Jathika Hela Urumaya, and
in the aftermath of the death of Ven.
Gangodawila Soma Thero, considered it timely
that the saffron robed should take up the
Buddhist cause in the political arena and
work towards the preservation of the
Buddhist heritage in a country supposedly
thrice offered to the Buddha.
What the JHU later became is history,
conspiracies and defections causing
credibility crises time and again leading to
immense disenchantment amongst the very
people who voted the nine monks to
It therefore comes as no surprise that the
JHU plays divisive politics even today, and
the much-highlighted recent case of a
Buddhist priest, Ven. Pannala Pagngnaloka
Thero, being arrested for failing to answer
a Supreme Court notice brings this stubborn
fact to the fore.
Sentiments of the
The arrest of the monk no doubt injured the
sentiments of the Buddhist clergy and the
Buddhists themselves, especially when the
likes of Mervyn Silva, his errant son Malaka
and close associate Kudu Nuwan manage to
evade the law at will.
Yet, the attempt of a senior public official
to influence the superior court and the
JHU's unrepentant move to embarrass the
judiciary and forcibly obtain freedom for
the arrested monk is a classic example of
Sri Lankan politics and manoeuvering
Unimpeachable sources confirm that Justice
Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath, a devout
Buddhist and a frequenter to Sambodhi
Viharaya, Colombo 7 tried to lobby Chief
Justice Sarath N. Silva to release the
Buddhist monk who was remanded for contempt
of court for failure to answer a notice
With a worried President Mahinda Rajapakse,
the JHU and even individual monks striving
to show that they played the role of saviour
of the arrested monk, it is none other than
Ven. Kusaladhamma Thero's quiet contribution
that eventually paid off.
The drama began on Monday, September 1, when
a Supreme Court Bench presided by the Chief
Justice issued a warrant against Ven.
Pannala Pagngnaloka Thero for failing to
appear in court after being noticed in a
noise pollution case. The Welikada Police
was directed to arrest the monk and he was
Re-remanded the monk
Thereafter, though a bail application was
submitted to court, the Supreme Court
re-remanded the monk and fixed the case for
It is in this backdrop that agitated monks,
instigated by different vested interest
groups organised an ad hoc protest of their
own within the Supreme Court premises on
September 5. The main contribution in this
regard was made by the JHU, wanting to
secure Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero's release at
any cost amidst growing pubic condemnation
for failing to stand by the monk.
It is reliably learned that the President
wished that the JHU monks took up the matter
as the arrest was considered an insult to a
President who projects a strong Sinhala
Leading the monk protest and ridiculing the
judiciary within the Supreme Court premises
was Ven. Rajawatte Wappa Thero, a monk with
strong connections to the JHU.
Inside sources claimed that despite getting
implicated in the sangha fiasco, it was
another Buddhist monk who has broken ranks
with the JHU who originally took up the
arrested monk's cause, though without
political motives. It was none other than
Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara Thero who felt
strongly about the remanding of the monk who
is also from a neighboring temple and tried
to correct a situation that he considered
might go really wrong.
Urged a show of support
He took the initiative to telephone several
monks in the area and urged that a show of
support was necessary to try and get the
monk released. But some of the monks did not
wish to get associated with a monk now
linked to the opposition.
While Ven. Gnanasara Thero contacted fellow
monks and invited them to gather before the
Supreme Court to march together, it is
learned that it was Ven. Rajawatte Wappa
Thero who tipped off the JHU that there was
growing discontent among the Buddhist clergy
over the situation.
It was a situation the political party was
desperate to seize, given the fact that the
cause for the arrest - the new noise
regulations were introduced by the JHU
itself not long ago. This was to be a face
saving exercise, if any.
The JHU's intervention sadly was to be in
the form of a protest before the Supreme
Court, disregarding conventions and decorum.
Judicial sources said that some of the monks
were denouncing the Roman-Dutch law as they
shouted their refusal to be bound by an
alien law thrust upon the country.
Contempt of court
One may conclude that it was indeed merciful
that the group of protesting Bhikkus were
not charged for contempt of court, though
reliable sources from the JHU itself
confirms that being arrested indeed was
their intention to draw more attention to
the case and portray the monks as a wronged
It was pre-planned that the monks would not
stand up when the judges walked in and it
was hoped that the considerable saffron
robed presence would influence the court to
speedily release the monk, informed sources
The large number of monks who went to the
Supreme Court to show solidarity with Ven.
Pagngnaloka Thero refused to stand up as a
curtsy in keeping with court convention when
the Chief Justice and Justices Andrew
Somawansa and Jagath Balapatabendi entered
The Chief Justice informed counsel for the
monk on that occasion court conventions have
to be observed by every person.
The matter turned sour when despite
protests, the court issued a re-remand order
for non-compliance with notice issued.
Some monks it is learned were also seen
blaming Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and
criticising his projected image as a strong
Buddhist and associated with Sambodhi
Viharaya, witnesses said.
Also, they were calling for the Malwatte and
Agiriya Chapters to explain the position
with regard to showing respect to the
judiciary and whether or not monks be
compelled to stand up before the court
There is another dimension to the post
arrest trauma. President Mahinda Rajapakse
was none too pleased with the legal
development and felt he would have to take
the blame at some point for what had
transpired. On Wednesday (3) at the cabinet
meeting, President Rajapakse openly worried
about the serious situation that had arisen
following the Supreme Court order remanding
the monk for which he said blame was being
apportioned to him. He felt that people
would happily lay the blame on his doorstep
though the judiciary dealt with the matter.
Re-arrest of the monk
The worried President had his concerns
intensified when the re-arrest of the monk
was ordered due to non-appearance in court
after being noticed.
Desperate times call for desperate actions.
Making a last ditch attempt and trying to
salvage some semblance of respectability on
behalf of the President was Justice Ministry
Secretary, Suhada Gamlath.
The same day the court ordered the re-remand
of the monk, Friday, September 5, Gamlath
hurried to the Sambodhi Viharaya. At the
temple, there was Chief Justice Sarath N.
Silva and Chief Incumbent, Ven. Daranagama
Kusaladhamma Thero in conversation.
Gamlath, according to informed sources threw
caution to the wind and appealed to the
Chief Justice to ensure the speedy release
of the monk which was by now a growing
concern among the Buddhist community. In
turn, the Chief Justice castigated Gamlath
for attempting to discuss a pending case
with him and cautioned against any further
discussions on the same matter.
Soon afterwards, Gamlath reportedly went to
Welikada remand prison with Ven.
Kusaladhamma and paid obeisance to Ven.
Pagngnaloka Thero. The Justice Secretary has
assured that President Mahinda Rajapakse
would do everything possible to ensure a
speedy resolution of the issue and to get
Among those who visited the monk while under
arrest, besides Justice Secretary Suhada
Gamlath was JHU Parliamentary Group Leader,
Ven. Athuraliye Rathana. At the Welikada
remand prison, the JHU monk too had assured
the fallen monk that the JHU would do its
utmost to secure his release. But nothing
came to pass.
By now the matter had become a huge
political embarrassment for President
Rajapakse and the JHU.
Making his stance public was the Maha Nayaka
of the Asgiriya Chapter, Ven. Udugama Sri
Buddharakkitha Thero. The respected monk
came out in support of the Supreme Court and
called for dignified conduct and due respect
Respect the judiciary
Delivering his anusasana at the Asgiriya
Pirivena where an English training programme
was launched by
School, the Maha Nayaka Thero maintained
that both monks and laypersons must respect
the judiciary and its hallowed traditions to
ensure discipline in the country.
The Chief Prelate also said traditions such
as getting up when judges enter a courthouse
or standing up in parliament when the mace
is brought in, should be observed by all
persons including Buddhist monks without
Meanwhile, it became incumbent upon Chief
Prelate of the Sambodhi Viharaya, Ven.
Daranagama Kusaladhamma Thero to play a
significant role in the drama to ensure
Working hard to secure his release through
legal means was the Sambodhi Viharaya Chief
Priest, though no drama was associated with
him and his attempts.
Released on bail
The Chief Incumbent visited the arrested
priest and upon being released on bail on
September 8, brought Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero
to Sambodhi Viharaya.
In the meantime, the President sent a
missive to Kusaladhamma Thero to come over
together with Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero. Ven.
Kusaladhamma Thero politely declined the
offer to meet the President.
In the meantime, it is reliably learned that
the Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero was quite
clueless as to the drama that had unfolded
on his behalf where the JHU had strived to
take political advantage by showing a
significant saffron presence. It is learned
that the monk felt outraged by the fact that
the monk political outfit had taken
political mileage from his predicament.
It has transpired that Ven. Pannala
Pagngnaloka Thero was granted bail based on
his affidavit which explained the
circumstances under which he unintentionally
violated the court order.
It is reliably learned that the priest
pleaded innocence with regard to the drama
that unfolded within the court premises on
his behalf and stated clearly that he had no
intention of disrespecting the judiciary.
The monk, it is earned has apologised to
court and disassociated himself completely
from the disgraceful organised protest by
the JHU monks that was a callous
demonstration of disrespect for the law.
He further stated he did not get a clear
message as to when he was supposed to appear
in court and re-appear.
Without political influence
It is little known that Ven. Kusaladhamma
Thero assisted the monk in this exercise and
to secure release without paying homage to
any political influences.
On the same day came the Presidential invite
for the monks to meet him at Temple Trees.
Having refused once, Ven. Kusaladhamma
decided to go, as the President went to the
extent of sending a vehicle to the temple
requesting a visit. So together went the
Buddhist priests to meet President Rajapakse
at Temple Trees.
While it was Ven. Kusaladhamma Thero's quiet
contribution that eventually paid off and
the arrested monk was released without
outside influence, adding a further twist to
the tale is the fact that the land upon
which Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero has built his
temple is not legally owned by the temple
Informed sources claimed that the President
at the Temple Trees meeting pledged to clear
the legality for the fallen monk and
summoned Urban Development Minister, Dinesh
Gunawardena to Temple Trees at that very
moment and instructed that the matter be
attended to immediately.
Avoid a collision course
It is also learned that it was at this
meeting that possible methods to avoid a
collision course with the judiciary was
discussed and it was suggested that separate
chambers be created in court rooms to have
monks seated until their respective cases
In the meantime, the JHU is now calling for
the amendment of the noise regulations they
themselves created and originally earned the
wrath of all religious communities for
interfering with religious activities. Now
that the legislation had backfired and that
too victimising a Buddhist monk, the JHU is
now busy blaming the Asgiriya chief priest
for his stance that both the clergy and
laypersons should show respect to the
An embarrassed President Rajapakse who
expected the JHU hooliganism to have the
desired effect causing the arrested monk to
be released is likely to have a rethink now.
The arm twisting attempted by the JHU also
backfired, as much as its legislation did.
Needless to state that the constituent
partner's failure, given its immense
Buddhist identity is a massive embarrassment
to the Head of State.
As we record all of the above that led to
the politicisation of a monk's arrest over
violating environmental regulations relating
to noise pollution, let us also not lose
sight of the fact that the initial
regulations, much as the JHU may protest,
oppose and publicly not acknowledge, were
intended to quell the 'noises' that emanated
from other places of religious worship,
particularly mosques during call to prayer.
A classic case
This is a classic case of the only religious
heritage the JHU seeks to protect, namely
the Buddhist heritage also being ridiculed
by others owing to the ill-conceived
political motives of a party steeped in
Strange it is for a party that speaks much
about Buddhist heritage that it should
anyway clamp down regulations, making temple
administrations squirm. And other places of
religious worship suffer in silence.
Such is the embarrassment that the JHU
suffered that it had to hurriedly hold a
press conference to announce that the
regulations would be shortly amended.
The general thinking is that when the
regulations were proposed it had no idea
about the cultural practices in the country
and were roundly condemned by all religious
When politically embarrassed by the arrest
of a monk thanks to regulations that were
created by none other than the JHU, the
party is now having a knee jerk reaction.
And it is pertinent to question whether the
same offer would have been made if a mosque,
a church, or a Hindu kovil were found
violating the law.
And that's the JHU's legacy of misguided
policy making and opportunism, a fact the
devout Buddhists should carefully consider
when they walk into the booth the next time
to elect legislators.
In the end, all the slogan shouting and
attempts to ridicule the judiciary had
proved futile. A quiet monk who legally
sought to help the affected Buddhist priest
has shown the way - that it is not militancy
but adherence to Buddhist living, which
includes working within the legal system
only, that can show results.
Hindu priests will get up
General Secretary, All Ceylon Hindu Congress
and senior lawyer, Kandiah Neelakandan said
Hindu priests would not be reluctant to get
up and pay respect to judges in 'courts of
Neelakandan explaining the special reference
to 'courts of justice' said that it should
be remembered that the respect is not to the
individuals coming on the benches but to the
justices/judges coming in their robes to the
"If that individual is outside court, he
cannot expect the same respect," he added.
Neelakandan added that if anyone
thinks/believes that one should not get up
when the judges come on the bench, such
person should enter the court after the
judges have come on the bench and should
also leave the court room before the judges
A senior parliamentary source explaining
tradition said that the Buddhist monks in
the galleries stood up when the mace was
brought in to commence the legislative
The source explained that the JHU monks who
are legislators disputed this tradition and
they were requested to enter the chamber
after the mace is placed in its bracket and
the Speaker has taken the chair.
"It is a new arrangement. After all, there
is no convention to be guided by," the
Monks sit - JHU Leader
JHU Leader, Ven. Dr. Ellawala Medhananda
Thero said that Buddhist monks were not
required to stand up in court or in
parliament, as there were only three
instances for them to stand up.
The monks should stand up before Lord
Buddha, in reverence of his teaching, the
Dhamma and finally, for a senior monk.
"Nothing else applies to the Buddhist
priests," he explained.
Officials at the National Christian Council
said that Christian religious leaders do
stand up when judges enter a courtroom.