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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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Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs

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People now wary of buying certain products

By Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.

The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.

As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.

A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.

Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.

However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.

Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.

It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.

Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.

In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.

Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.

“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.

Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.

After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.

Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.

 

 

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Ceyleon Solutions launch Sparetime App to turn spare time into income

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Ceyleon Solutions, a leading mobile app solution provider, launched Sparetime (www.sparetime.lk), a special mobile app to make easy money using one’s spare time. This app helps to search for people providing domestic, official or personal services or earn an extra income by providing a wide range of services.

Services such as masonry, plumbing, computer related services, wholesale, distribution, medical & healthcare, teaching, legal, beauticians, cleaning, helping, babysitting and car wash can be either searched or provided using this app as it creates an online platform for such service providers and those who seek their services.

There are two apps compatible to android and apple phones, ‘Sparetime Provider’ for those who provide services and ‘Sparetime User’ for those who seek such services.

“This is an ideal option for those who find it difficult to make ends meet with their salaries. Using this app, they can make use of their spare time effectively to earn extra money. This creates a comprehensive service hub. For an example, a vegetable farmer can find both a whole seller and a transport service provider to transport his goods with just a click. Even students can find part time work for their financial needs”, said Chaminda De Silva, creator and owner of the Sparetime app.

“This app works as a platform for social workers to get together and mobilize people for tasks that they wish to perform. This is a very user friendly app. However, operating instructions can be obtained by calling our hotline 0706355450 or 0706355452. An instructor will come to help you if necessary”, he noted.

Regardless of being a service provider or a user, this app will be ideal. It will also pave the way to gradually reduce the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka and will subsequently contribute to the gross domestic product accelerating economic growth of Sri Lanka.

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“Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims; they hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes’

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Rishad Bathiudeen tells Parliament

The Muslims never called for separatism. The Muslims have been on the side of the nation for over 1,000 years in Sri Lanka as documented in the book of Dr. Lorna Devaraja titled, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. Even when the Muslims were threatened with eviction or death from the North, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to be on the side of the State, Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, said.

Speaking in English during the fifth day of the debate on the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Attacks in Parliament on April 7, he said: “Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims. They hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes. The report in Page 94 confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim Communities of Sri Lanka”.

The MP’s speech contained many points and references to matters in the report and events that transpired thereafter.

Some of the points raised by the MP were:

* The State is antagonizing the Muslim community in the manner that Zahran had wanted them to act. The State should not play to the tunes of Zahran. The State should not act in a way that would jeopardize national security. The State has already commenced the process of State sponsored oppression by prohibiting the import of Muslim books and are making plans to ban Niqabs/Burkas and Madrasas.

* The PCoI has exonerated Rishad Bathiudeen from all charges in connection with the Easter attacks. Only two charges remain to be investigated. First one is in relation to the phone call placed by Bathiudeen to then Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, concerning Ihsan Moinudeen. Secondly, the sale of scrap metal by the Industrial Development Board to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd. Rishad Bathiudeen visited the Bribery Commission on 8th of April, 2021 to request them to investigate the allegation in the report.

 

* The weight placed on the phone call made by Rishad Bathiudeen to General Mahesh Senanayake, was given far higher significance in the report in comparison to the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara who released six persons from the Hettipola Police Station who were involved in torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. The Commission Report had recommended investigation into the phone call but had not charged Dayasiri on any matter.

 

* The Government cannot have a law banning the Niqab and Burka without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, etc.

* Restriction of Islamic books being brought into the country is a violation of the Constitution.

* Bathiudeen quoted Page 331 of the Report:‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’. If the Government can keep politicians like Wimal Weerawansa in check, the de-radicalization program will be half completed. He also said that inciting racism will only provoke and radicalize more Muslims.

 * Killing of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottramulla before his children in the aftermath of the Easter Attacks, was Genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and all persons who were inciting racism could be charged for incitement to genocide. Subsequent charges of oppression too can have a detrimental effect on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must be careful as Sri Lanka is now a party to the Rome Statute and can be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.

 

* It was Azath Salley who indicated during a press conference concerning the criminal activities of Zahran Hashim in 2017, but he is alleged to have connections to the Easter Attacks. This is not fair. The Government is politically victimizing Muslims who are speaking up against the oppressive tactics of the Government.

* The One Country One Law Policy does not mean that Muslim Personal Laws alone should be targeted. Most people believe that Customary Laws should be removed. However, that logic would require the Government to abolish Provincial legislation too, as Provincial legislation is also territorially implemented and not countrywide. Several laws will have to be struck down. However, the right way of interpreting the One Country One Law policy would be to maintain all laws that are consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

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