By Rathindra Kuruwita
Pulasthini Rajendran aka Sarah Jesmine, wife of Atchchi Muhammadu Hastun, who detonated the suicide bomb at St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya, Negombo had been with the wife of NTJ leader Zaharan Hashim, Abdul Cader Fatima, from February to 26 April, 2019 and the authorities could find out what happened to Sarah from Fatima, Rajaratnam Kavitha, the mother of Pulasthini, on Saturday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.
The witness said that Pulasthini had been converted to Islam in 2015 by General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’at (SLTJ), Abdul Razik. Her daughter, born in 1996, had obtained 8 As and 1 B at the GCE O/L examination, and had decided to study biology; she used to travel to Kalmunai to attend private tuition classes and the witness was working in Abu Dhabi at that time.
The witness said that on 29 July, 2015, her mother had informed her, over the phone, that Pulasthini had gone missing. Kavitha had instructed her mother to lodge a complaint with the Kaluwanchikudy Police. Razik had called Kavitha’s brother informing him that Pulasthini was with them.
Kavitha said that she returned from Abu Dhabi and visited Razik’s office at Maligawatte. “I saw Pulasthini dressed like a Muslim woman. There were three men including Razik and a woman. Razik and two other men there were listening while I was talking to Pulasthini.”
Asked by the Attorney General’s (AG’s) department representative who was leading the evidence what she had done after talking to Pulasthini on that day, the witness said that she had lodged a complaint with the Maligawatte police station.
The witness said: “Abdul Razik came to the police station with Pulasthini. Police officers told me to take her home for 15 days and that I could keep her with me if she decided to follow Hinduism. However, if she decided to follow Islam, she should be allowed to join Razik. The Police officers also warned me that I would be arrested if I didn’t act accordingly.”
Commissioners asked Kavitha if she was aware that a mother had the right to a child, regardless of religion, and if so, whether she had explained that to the policemen. The witness said that she was aware of that and when the point was raised, the Police officers had told her that Pulasthini was over 18 years old and that she could do as she wished.
Kavitha also said that the Police officers had got her to signe a three-page document. She added that she could not understand the contents as it had been in Sinhala.
“Razik’s aim was to convert Hindus to Islam. When I first went to the Maligawatte Police station I told them that, but the Police did not pay any attention to it and only listened to Razik,” she added.
Kavitha said that after returning home with her, Pulasthini had removed the Abaya and practiced Hindu rituals. However, after 15 days, Razik had demanded that Pulasthini be returned to them. Razik had warned he knew how to change Pulasthini’s mind. On September 24, 2015 she went to hospital with Pulasthini, who went missing. She lodged a complaint with the Batticaloa Police.
The following day, Razik had called her and informed her that Pulasthini had got married to Hastun, the witness said. “I went to Maligawatte with my brother, aunt and son. However, Razik did not show her any evidence that the marriage had taken place.
“The Maligawatte Police were informed of this but they said there was nothing they could do because both Pulasthini and Hastun were over 18 years. I learned that my daughter’s name had been changed to Sarah Jasmine after the marriage.”
However, Pulasthini came to Abu Dhabi on 6 January, 2016 to join her mother because she didn’t want to live with Hastun. Pulasthini was in Abu Dhabi for almost four months ; she worked there as a cashier.
“After about four months, Pulasthini told me that she wanted to continue her studies and went back to Sri Lanka. She promised me that she would not go back to Hastun again. Meanwhile, Hastun had lodged a complaint with the Kattankudy Police station that we had kept his wife away from him forcibly. The complaint was investigated at the Kattankudy Police station. Representatives of a Muslim federation and the Police handed over my daughter to Hastun.”
Commissioners paid special attention to the fact that Hastun had lodged a complaint with the Kattankudy Police although Pulasthini was a resident of the Kaluwanchikudy Police division. They were also concerned by the revelation that outsiders had come and intervened during the investigation of the complaint.
The witness said that after sometime she had come to know that Zaharan’s wife had taken her daughter to a house in Narammala and the last time she spoke to Pulasthini was on the phone on 19 February, 2019, around 12.30 p.m.
“I heard a lot of people talking around her when she spoke that day, and she said she would give her phone to be repaired and, therefore, she would not call me for about a week. I haven’t heard from her sincee.”
Kavitha said that she had returned to Sri Lanka by that time and lodged a complaint with the Narammala Police on 6 April, 2019, as she had not heard from Pulasthini for two months. On 7 April, a CID officer Roshan had visited her and informed her that he has come with some information from Razik. Roshan had told the witness that Pulasthini was with Zaharan’s wife and gave her a contact number to inform him in case Pulasthini called her.
“Two days later, I went to the Kaluwanchikudy Police station to lodge a complaint about Pulasthini but they did not accept the complaint. They told me to go to Kattankudy Police station. Even though I went to Kattankudy Police, they also did not accept the complaint.”
Since both the Kaluwanchikudy and Kattankudy Police stations had not accepted complaints, Kavitha had then gone to the Human Rights Commission’s regional office in Batticaloa.
“I informed an officer there that I had found out that my daughter was with Zaharan. At that moment he said he knew Zaharan and that there was nothing to be scared of since Zaharan was a normal person. He also said there was no need to lodge a complaint and that he would look into the matter,” Kavitha said.
Members of the PCoI asked Kavitha about recent revelations that Pulasthini had not been killed during a shootout with the security forces in Sainthamaruthu on 26 April, 2019. Kavitha said that she had come to know about such a matter through the media but she has not heard from her daughter since February 2019. She also requested the security forces to conduct another DNA test.
The witness said that the Police had shown her photographs of jewelleries found in the house of Sainthamaruthu after the explosion and that her daughter’s jewellery was not there.
When the commission inquired whether the witness had seen Pulasthini in September 2019, she said that she had not even spoken to her over the phone since February 2019, and if she had known her daughter’s whereabouts, she would definitely have informed the security forces.
“I request the security forces to find out if my daughter is alive. If my daughter has done something wrong, punish her. But if she is alive, give me a chance to see her at least once,” she said.
Concluding that Kavitha’s life was likely to be in danger due to testimonies that she gave before the Commission, the PCoI ordered the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses to ensure her security and to submit a written report to the PCoI within a week on the action taken in that regard.
Ex-Defence Secy claims he was never shown Military Intelligence reports
Easter Sunday probe:
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, on Tuesday, claimed, before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), investigating the Easter Sunday attacks, that he had never seen intelligence reports sent by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) to the Defence Ministry, regarding National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) Leader Zahran Hashim and his extremist activities.
Fernando said so when the Commissioners drew Fernando’s attention to several intelligence reports shared by the DMI, between January and April 21, 2019, with the Defence Ministry. After going through the reports, the former Defence Secretary said that he had never seen them before.
“Former Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) Sisira Mendis didn’t inform me of the reports shared by DMI. I see that these reports contained information that I could have used to take certain preventive measures.”
When shown a DMI report, presented at an Intelligence Review Meeting (IRM), stating that Zahran may have fled to India in March, 2019, the witness said he had never seen the document, but he was aware that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had rejected that DMI report.
“The SIS believed that Zahran was in the country by March 2019. This tallied with CID’s opinions.”
The witness added that he had been displeased with officials, including former CNI, for not sharing DMI intelligence reports with him.
Fernando added that, according to the Constitution, the President had to appoint an acting Defence Minister when he travelled overseas.
“However, former President Maithripala Sirisena didn’t appoint anyone as the acting Defence Minister when he left the country on April 16, 2019,” Fernando said.
Fernando said he had contacted former Director of State Intelligence Service (SIS) Nilantha Jayawardena on several occasions after the motorcycle bomb explosion at Kattankudy on 16 April, 2019, but the latter had never informed him that it was the work of Zahran Hashim and his associates.
Answering a question posed by the Additional Solicitor General (ASG,) who led the evidence about the incident, Fernando added that although SDIG Jayawardena had sent him some photos related to the incident through WhatsApp, they were not clear.
The witness was also asked about the detection of a stock of explosives at the Jihadist training camp in Wanathawilluwa on 16 January, 2019.
Fernando said he had been informed of the detection, but he did not think those explosives could be used for a terrorist attack.
A commissioner asked the witness if he had been able to assess the damage that could be caused by the explosives. Fernando he had no expertise in the subject.
India: All 32 accused in Babri Mosque demolition case acquitted
BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, September 30:
A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh state on Wednesday acquitted all 32 accused in the Babri Mosque demolition case almost 28 years after a mob razed the 16th century structure in Ayodhya.
The accused faced charges like criminal conspiracy, rioting, promoting enmity between different groups, and unlawful assembly.
The demolition triggered some of the deadliest riots since the partition riots in 1947 that left about 2,000 dead. The acquitted included veteran Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Lal Krishna Advani (92), and Murli Manohar Joshi (86).
CBI Judge Surendra Kumar Yadav ordered the acquittal by citing a lack of evidence. He said the probe agency could not prove the authenticity of the audio and video evidence submitted. He said the demolition was not pre-planned and the accused tried to stop “anti-social” elements who razed the mosque.
Former Union minister Uma Bharti, and Kalyan Singh, who was Uttar Pradesh chief minister at the time of the demolition, are among other accused acquitted in the case. They have tested positive for Covid-19 and are hospitalised, and could not attend the court proceedings on Wednesday. Singh’s government was dismissed over the demolition.
Sadhvi Rithambhara, Lallu Singh, Pawan Pandey, Vinay Katiyar, and Champat Rai were among the accused present in the CBI court.
The verdict came months after the Supreme Court in November 2019 ruled in favour of building a temple at the 2.77-acre site in Ayodhya, where the mosque once stood. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended a ceremony to mark the beginning of the temple construction in August.
Security was heightened on the court premises. No one except the defence, CBI lawyers, and the accused were allowed inside the courtroom. Entry was permitted through only one gate and barricades were put on nearby roads to restrict traffic.
Supporters of the accused were stopped at the barricades as they started arriving at the court. Journalists were denied access to the court building, and most of the shops in the vicinity remained closed.
The CBI took over the demolition case a week after the mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992. Two simultaneous criminal trials in Lucknow and Rae Bareli were conducted until the Supreme Court shifted all cases to Lucknow in 2017. The top court in July last year extended the timeframe for completing the criminal trial by six months and also set a deadline of nine months for the final order.
The nine-month deadline expired on April 19. The Supreme Court on May 8 set the new deadline of August 31 for the judgment. In August, it again extended the deadline till September 30.
CBI produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence during the course of the trial and the special court framed charges against 49 accused. Seventeen of the accused died during the course of the trial.
Veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani welcomed the judgement by the special CBI court which acquitted him and 31 other accused in the Babri mosque demolition case.
“I wholeheartedly welcome the judgement. The judgement vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi movement,” Advani said after the verdict by the court in Lucknow.
He, along with another accused Murli Manohar Joshi, participated in the proceedings through video conferencing. “It’s a historic decision by the court. This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the December 6 incident in Ayodhya. Our programme and rallies were not part of any conspiracy. We are happy, everyone should now be excited about Ram Mandir’s construction,” said Joshi.
The CBI, which went into the case, produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence before the court. Charges were framed against 48 people, but 16 had died during the course of the trial. Over two dozen of 32 accused were present
The verdict given by the special CBI court in the Babri demolition case has been hailed by many political leaders and Union ministers. Defence minister Rajnath Singh took the lead in congratulating the 32 who were acquitted.
However, the opposition Congress Party said the verdict runs counter to the 2019 Supreme Court judgment as also the “Constitutional spirit”. The party asked the Central and Uttar Pradesh governments to file an appeal against the decision of the special court.
“Every Indian, who has innate faith in the Constitution as also in the spirit of communal amity and brotherhood, expects and urges the Central and State Governments to file an appeal against the decision of the Special Court founded in error and follow the letter of the law and the Constitution, without any partiality and pre-meditated prejudice. This is the true calling of rule of law and our Constitution,” he added.
Amnesty International to cease work in India, citing government harassment
NEW DELHI —
Amnesty International said Tuesday (29) that it would halt operations in India after its bank accounts were frozen and its executives interrogated by financial authorities, the latest steps in what the human rights group called a two-year campaign of harassment, the Washington Post report posted on Sept 29.
Washington Post report: The announcement reflects the diminishing space for dissent in the world’s largest democracy, where critics of government policies increasingly face probes by authorities or even arrest.
The government is “treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence,” Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India, said in a statement. Its goal is to “stoke a climate of fear.”
Amnesty said it would lay off more than 100 staff members and cease its human rights campaigns in India.
Its recent work included reports alleging police complicity in deadly interreligious riots in Delhi earlier this year and an investigation into India’s crackdown in the restive Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Tuesday’s announcement puts India in the same category as authoritarian regimes such as Russia, the only other country where Amnesty International previously ceased operations when it shuttered its office in 2016. The director of its Turkey arm was arrested, but its office in the country remains functional. The group does not have a presence in China.
Amnesty said it was in compliance with all Indian laws and had received no formal communication from the authorities regarding the freezing of its bank accounts earlier this month. No charges have been filed against the organization, it said. It plans to challenge the freezing of its accounts in court but said it did not expect a ruling soon.
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs alleged in a statement that Amnesty India was receiving funds from abroad in contravention of the law, a practice that had invited action from the previous government, as well. “All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power” are a “ploy to divert attention,” it said.
A spokesman for the Enforcement Directorate — an investigative agency that enforces laws regarding money laundering and foreign exchange — did not respond to a request for comment.
Amnesty is not the only international watchdog under pressure from the government. Greenpeace India has been the subject of an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate since 2018. The probe forced the group to reduce its staff by a third and scale back its work on climate change.
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