People’s Rights Group (PRG), a rights-based advocacy and lobbying group based in the UK particularly dealing with human rights violations in Sri Lanka, notes with grave concern, the reasoning provided by the Defence Secretary Retd. General Kamal Gunaratne during a recent televised interview organised by the Presidential Media Unit, to absolve State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Major General Suresh Sallay of alleged involvement with the Easter Sunday bombing. His line of reasoning gave a clear insight and an inkling about the ethos and racist mindset of the administration he represents.

Quoting from the Sri Lankan media, Daily FT, in the interview, General Gunaratne vouched for the SIS Chief’s innocence, claiming: “Sallay is a Muslim name, but as far as I know he is not involved in extremism. He cannot even speak a word of Tamil or Arabic. He has not even read the Qur’an. He is married to a Buddhist lady and both their children have Sinhalese names.” PRG strongly feels that these views coming from the assertions of a Defence chief, not only demonstrates merely a moment of naked honesty, it also clearly shows the Government’s criteria for determining who is an extremist and who is not, which is extremely dangerous and reprehensible. This biased thinking of the establishment as revealed by General Gunaratne clearly reflects the imbedded state-sanctioned racism in Sri Lanka and runs across the numerous cases concerning Muslims and also Tamils pending before the courts.

Particularly, since the end of the civil war in 2009, and even more alarmingly since the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019, Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is being targeted, vilified and attacked, Laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) were usually applied differently or adversely. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic too, there have been well-orchestrated attempts to apply the law unevenly.

Immediately after the Easter Sunday Bombings, about 2200 Muslims were arrested and detained under newly imposed Emergency Regulations (ER) and the PTA.  Mosques and Arabic schools across the country were raided by security forces and arrests made without due legal process. Some Islamic school students were arrested for having books with Arabic scripts and poems. To date over 300 Muslims remain in custody since the Easter attacks with no specific charges lodged or trial proceedings commenced. Some amongst them are underage and women. Many Muslims activists, scholars, politicians, professionals and writers too were taken on various unsubstantiated charges of extremism and connection to this tragic disaster. On the contrary, while Muslims continue to be targeted and arbitrarily detained, none of the key culprits already identified behind either these bombings or any of the anti-Muslim attacks in Post war period, have been punished.

In this context, PRG notes with alarm this continued antipathy to the Muslim community, and the reluctance of the current regime in abandoning this ‘raison d’être’ and reversing this attitude and policy, as it continues its majoritarian rule. Thus, PRG fervently believes that little will change, as long as there is gain to be made politically from spewing hatred and inciting violence against the Muslim community. However, it is optimistic to note that voices have been emerging both locally and internationally to oppose the demonisation of particular communities and all forms of extremism including state sponsored extremism. PRG unequivocally supports these clarion calls for the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to alter its divisive course and safeguard the human rights of all communities in Sri Lanka. PRG also particularly requests the Government of Sri Lanka to complete Easter bombing related investigations without delay and release all those held without charges.

Statement on the views expressed by the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary – 26-12-21