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NTJ threatened Chief Incumbent of Nelligala IBC

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by Rathindra Kuruwita

National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) had sent a threatening letter to Chief Incumbent of the Nelligala International Buddhist Centre (NIBC), Ven. Wathurukumbure Dhammaratana Thera, a few weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks, the Thera told on Saturday to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Thera said that Zahran had come to see him on several occasions. On 4 February, 2014, a group of Muslims had come with a local businessman where the NIBC is currently located. It was about an unused state land and the Muslims had begun the construction of a place of worship without the necessary approval.

The Thera was informed of this development by the villagers and on 5 February, he visited the site with some youth and demolished the unauthorised construction. He had then acquired the same land, following the proper process, on a 30-year lease and the construction of the NIBC had commenced with the approval of Department of Buddhist Affairs and other relevant institutions in August, 2014. The witness said that several lands adjoining the site had been purchased and the facilities of the NIBC upgraded.

Asked by a Senior State Counsel (SSC) whether any incident had taken place during the construction of a building in the NIBC premises in June 2016, the witness said that a group of five persons had come and said that they hoped to purchase a plot of land nearby. The witness said that Zahran Hashim, the leader of NTJ had been among the group.

Zaharan had inquired from the witness whether he had any objections to them purchasing the nearby land for the construction of a ‘Centre’, which would not be a Mosque.

“I informed them that I did not like such a development as that would lead to unwanted issues in the future. Zahran spoke Sinhala fluently, better than any ordinary Muslim. Zahran told me that they and we could work together and I realised that he really wanted to buy a land near by Nelligala.”

The witness said that Zahran had returned to the NIBC in March 2017, in a bus with around 50 youth. The Thera said that the youth were dressed in identical clothes and it looked like that they were undergoing a training at some institution.

“Zahran requested some tea saying he and his team had travelled a long distances and I then offered them some tea,” the witness said, adding that Zahran had discussed Buddhism, Catholicism and Islam with him.

“It became clear to me that he was a fundamentalist. He spoke very critically about ordinary Muslims and said that if the estate workers had supported Prabhakaran, they would not have suffered. In August 2017, Zahran again came to the NIBC and discussed various issues with me. He was highly critical of ordinary Muslims, their beliefs, the Maulavis and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU). He also criticised certain rituals by Muslims such as worshipping tombstones at Mosques.”

According to the witness, during another meeting Zaharan had blamed Muslims for the clashes between the Sinhalese and the Muslims in Digana area. Zahran had also found fault with the Thera for intervening and conciliating.

“From what he said, I felt that Zahran liked these clashes. It allowed him to attract Muslim youth to his extremist activities,” the Thera said.

He said that he had also recorded discussions with Tawfiq Ahmed of the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’at (SLTJ) and Abdul Razik, General Secretary of the Ceylon Thowheed Jama’at (CTJ) about Islamist extremist activities and those had been circulating on social media. The witness said Zahran had phoned him and threatened him to remove those videos from social media platforms.

Zahran also blamed Razik since he was critical of Sharia law, Islamic banking and the burqa during the discussions with him, the Thera said.

Although Zahran had never visited the NIBC premises after that meeting, the NTJ leader had spoken to him on the phone on several occasions, the witness said. Zaharan had told him that he was in areas like Mawanella, Nuwara-Eliya and Kattankudi during those conversations, the Thera said.

Asked by the Attorney General’s Department representative when he had last received a telephone call from Zahran, the Thera said the last call from Zahran had come on 23 February, 2019.

“On that day, he spoke in a very aggressive manner and told me that I had no right to comment on matters such as Arabisation.

The witness said Zahran had told him, “You are not like Gnanasara Thera. You are a very cunning man and acquiring Muslims’ lands.”

The Thera said that and event related to the traditional New Year had been organised at the NIBC premises on 21 April, 2019 and he had been shocked about the Easter Sunday attacks and Zahran’s involvement in it. He had also taken steps to remove nearly 2,000 devotees who were at the premises within 20 minutes.

Thereafter, he had informed the then Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army General Shavendra Silva, the Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara that Zaharan had visited the NIBC on several occasions and after eight military personnel had been assigned to protect the NIBC.

The Thera said that a few weeks after the bombings, on 14 May, 2019, he received an anonymous letter on a NTJ letterhead warning that he would be assassinated. Certain things that Zahran had told him over the phone had also included in the letter, the witness said.

“Copies of the letter were handed over to the then Army Commander and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Relevant institutions, however, did not pay due attention to it. They did not record a statement from me or conduct an inquiry into the matter.”

The Thera also submitted a set of proposals on actions to be taken in order to eradicate extremist activities to the PCoI.

Noting that Ven. Dhammaratana Thera’s life could be in danger due to the testimony, the PCoI ordered the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses (NAPVCW) to provide him with adequate security.



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Parliament rejected two anti-corruption proposals

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Ex-COPE Chairman makes another revelation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Parliament has blocked two specific proposals made by MP Prof. Charitha Herath in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to enable the Parliamentary Watchdog Committee to engage the Attorney General in high profile corruption cases, directly.

SLPP National List MP Herath lost the COPE Chairmanship with the prorogation of the Parliament on 28 July by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The prorogation results in suspension of all business before the House and quashed all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments.

Prof. Herath told The Island yesterday (25) that in consultation with Auditor General W. P. C. Wickremaratne, he had requested for the modification of Standing Orders 120, several months back, to permit the COPE to call for Attorney General’s interventions as and when necessary. If that was not acceptable, Parliament should approve specific requests made by him on behalf of the COPE, he suggested.

Prof. Herath said that the alternative, too, has been rejected. Responding to another query, he said that he had submitted the proposals to the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee consists of nine members, including the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders, Prof. Herath also suggested that if proposals submitted in writing weren’t acceptable then at least a representative of the Attorney General should be allowed to participate in the COPE proceedings. That proposal too was turned down.

Prof. Herath said that the rejection of specific measures to address corruption accusations should be examined against the backdrop of the economic fallout of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the national economy as well as the unprecedented recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

Prof. Herath alleged that the Parliament should be seriously concerned over the Geneva intervention especially because the country was seeking immediate assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Asserting that the situation was so grave that even USD 2.9 bn loan facility spread over a period of four years couldn’t revive the national economy, Prof. Herath emphasised that streamlining of public sector enterprises was a prerequisite for the economic recovery process. Therefore, corruption had to be curtailed by taking tangible measures, he said.

Prof. Herath said that though the particular Standing Order had been amended it didn’t meet their aspirations. What has been approved by the Parliament was inadequate to meet the growing threat posed by influential racketeers, the outspoken MP said. Prof. Herath has closed ranks with the dissident SLPP group, led by Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, and Dullas Alahapperuma. Other members of the group are Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Dr. Upali Galappatti, Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, Lalith Ellawala, K.P. S. Kumarasiri, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Gunapala Ratnasekera and Udayana Kiridigoda.

Prof. Herath said that as the SLPP declined to allocate time for members of the rebel group, he was compelled to obtain five minutes from the Opposition to take up the issue in Parliament.Appreciating Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella for giving him the opportunity, Prof. Herath pointed out how a carefully prepared set of proposals to strengthen the COPE had been rejected.

Prof. Herath stressed that the intervention of the COPE was required as the Secretaries to the Ministries often failed to proceed with the instructions issued to them. The MP found fault with section 3 and 4 of Standing Orders 120. Declaring that though the Parliament was routinely blamed for its failure to arrest corruption, MP Herath said that Members of Parliament weren’t aware of what was going on. He also called for the strengthening of Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 that dealt with the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), COPE and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), respectively.

MP Herath declared in Parliament that the crux of the matter was that those appointed members of the Cabinet represented the interests of the Executive and thereby undermined the very basis of the responsibilities of the House. The undeniable truth was that the Cabinet ministers didn’t represent the interests of the Parliament. “In other words, they worked against the collective responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure financial discipline,” MP Herath said, pointing out that in some countries the lawmakers were not entrusted with the task of decision-making.

Referring to Executive Sub-Committees to be established, Prof. Herath emphasized the pivotal importance of recognizing their responsibilities. If they were answerable to the Executive there would be serious consequences pertaining to the parliamentary system. Executive Sub-Committees shouldn’t be at the expense of the Parliament, the MP said, underscoring the responsibility of the part of all political parties represented in Parliament to take immediate remedial measures.

The rejection of the COPE proposals meant that the Parliament,as an institution hadn’t been sensitive to the recent public upheaval that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes to give up the presidency and literally flee for his life.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been elected by Parliament to complete the remainder of the five-year term secured by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the SLPP, hadn’t realised the need to introduce urgent reforms, the MP alleged.Prof. Herath also questioned the rationale behind setting up of the National Council when the powers that be deprived the existing mechanisms required power to achieve their objectives.

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AHP asks President RW to be wise gazette-wise

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The Academy of Health Professionals (AHP) has called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and refrain from issuing gazettes, one after the other, and then reverse them in order to prevent worsening of the crisis situation prevailing in the country’s health sector.

AHP President Ravi Kumudesh, has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said that the country’s health sector is in the present situation as the former President and the Health Minister allowed themselves to be manipulated by a coterie of officials. “We call on the President not to become another ruler who reverses gazettes and to assess the practicality of the proposals put forward by his advisors before gazzetting them. One such cause for the downfall of the health sector was former Health Ministers playing with the retirement age. As a result, there are many senior officials holding top offices of the health sector despite the fact that all of them are above the age of 60 years. If any official is given a service extension for an office in a health sector position, then it should be given only for a six-month period with the specific objective of training one of his qualified subordinates for that particular position.

 During that period, the official who is given the service extension should not be sent abroad for training or further education. Many officials, who are over 60 years of age, had been given service extensions and were found given foreign trips for capacity building. The irresponsible human resource management in the public sector is one of the main concerns that has been raised by the International Monetary Fund when assisting this country,” Kumudesh has said in his letter.

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BASL contemplates legal action against HSZ gazette

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has threatened legal action against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reintroduction of war-time high security zones (HSZs).

“The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured,” the BASL has said in a statement.

The BASL has said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

Full text of the statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is deeply concerned at the declaration of certain areas in Colombo as High Security Zones under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.The said order appears to cover several areas in the Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the Court premises.

The said order by the President purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other open area situated within such High Security Zones without the permission of the Inspector General of Police or a Senior Deputy Inspector General. It also prohibits the parking of vehicles within the zone unless reserved for parking by the Competent Authority or under a permit issued by him, such Competent Authority being the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.The scope of the Official Secrets Act is clearly set out in Section 2 of the said Act which can be read at: https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/official-secrets.4/

What Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act enables the Minister, is to declare any land, building, ship, or aircraft as a prohibited place. The Act does not empower the Minister to declare large areas as High Security Zones.The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organisations, and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purposes of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act. It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis.

The BASL is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka

The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured.We continue to remind the authorities including the President of the wisdom found in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Jana Ghosha’ case of Amaratunge v Sirimal and others (1993) 1 SLR 264 which states as follows:

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.”

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