On the eve of 4th year remembrances of Easter Sunday attacks, I remember many things.
The most vivid are the images of dead and injured, damage to the churches and hotels. These were quickly rebuilt. Except for memorials in churches, the rebuilding may help erase memories of the tragedy from the churches and hotels.
I remember the families of those killed that I had met in Negombo, in Batticaloa, in Nuwara Eliya (families of those killed in Kochchikade church in Colombo) and also a father of a hotel staffer killed. I also remember those injured, including those who are still seeking medical care in Sri Lanka and overseas, and their families. Their physical, emotional and financial struggles, tears, grief and pain indicates their lives are far from being rebuilt.
I also remember image of at least one Muslim man who was killed in violence against Muslims after the Easter Sunday attacks and the Muslim shops, houses torched at that time. I remember the asylum seekers and refugees around Negombo who were evicted, re-displaced and became homeless in the days after Easter attacks, after having come to seek temporary refuge in Sri Lanka due to persecutions they faced in Pakistan, Afghanistan etc.
I also remember the many Muslims who were detained unjustly for months and years after Easter attacks, including women with children, especially from Kathankudy. One of the more famous cases was of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, who had publicly condemned the Easter attacks. I also remember his family who I got to know after his detention, and families of others detained on suspicion of being involved in the Easter attacks, all of whom had suffered greatly, irrespective of the guilt or innocence of detainees.
I also remember that Sri Lankan criminal justice system, including investigators, prosecutors and judiciary, have not been able to hold those responsible for easter attacks accountable for 4 years. Former Secretary to Ministry of Defense and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) were acquitted from cases filed against them, without evidence even being called from the defense. Other criminal cases filed by the Attorney General on behalf of the state and people, are still going on. Fundamental rights cases filed by some concerned citizens led to the Supreme Court holding the former President and senior officials responsible for not preventing Easter attacks, and ordering them to pay compensation. The amounts were small compared to previous amounts awarded by the Supreme Court to torture victims and there was no directive to hold them responsible for criminal negligence. The court had ruled to remove the then Prime Minister (and present President) Ranil Wickramasinghe from the case before the judgement, citing presidential immunity.
I remember that that the private plaint filed in September 2022 against former President Maithreepala Sirisena in the Fort Magistrate Court, alleging that he had failed to discharge his duties as the Minister of Defense, is still pending. I also remember that there is still no response to the April 2022 police complaint and May 2022 letter to the police chief demanding the arrest of Nilantha Jayawardana, the former director of the State Intelligence Services (SIS). As far as I know, no disciplinary action has been taken against him despite the Supreme Court orders to this effect in January 2023. I also remember that no action has been taken against Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) Deshabandu Tennakoon, despite a Presidential Commission of Inquiry recommending disciplinary action for not doing his duties to prevent Easter attacks and a Special Police Investigative Division recommending to press charges against him for negligence. I also remember that it took nearly two years for the former Attorney General to be summoned for questioning in relation to his statement to media in May 2021 that there was a “Grand Conspiracy” with regard to the Easter attacks, and media reports today indicating his refusal to appear for questioning. And that overall, there is little interest in looking at “master minds” or those most responsible for easter attacks beyond those who did the attacks.
I remember the long time spent for conversations with foreign journalists, researchers, international organizations, diplomats, UN officials etc. about Easter Sunday attacks, but that international attention has been minimal after the immediate aftermath of the attacks. After being visibly absent for two years, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had gradually increased references to Easter Sunday attacks in reports on Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council since September 2021. The last report in October 2022 included calls for independent and transparent investigation with international assistance. I also remember the case filed in the United States of America (USA) against three suspects in relation to Easter attacks, on charges linked to supporting ISIS. As far as I know, no other country has initiated criminal prosecutions, though the Easter attacks is the largest massacre of foreign nationals in Sri Lanka, during or after the war.
I remember that on Easter Sunday this year (9th April 2023), police had banned the use of banners, black flags and loudspeakers, during a vehicle parade from St. Nicholas Church in Bopitiya to St.Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya (the church most affected by Easter Sunday bombings) demanding truth and justice. A media report had accused three prominent Catholic Priests advocating for truth and justice for Easter Sunday attacks of conspiring against the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo. Shehan Malaka, an outspoken youth activist who publicly made an allegation of political conspiracy related to Easter attacks was arrested, and though he was released on bail, a case was filed against him in the Colombo High Court.
I remember the many churches I’ve been to in the war-ravaged Jaffna and Mannar Catholic dioceses (Northern province) that had been attacked by the Sri Lankan armed forces, such as Navaly Church, Gurunagar church, the Allaipiddy church, the Pesalei church and Madhu church, resulting in the killing and injuries to many Tamil civilians. There has been no criminal accountability and adequate compensations for these and many other serious crimes during the three decades long war, including the extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances of Catholic priests, journalists and others. Including Fr. Karunaratnam (Fr. Kili), who was killed on 20th April 2008. I also remember that Mosques and Buddhist Temples have been attacked by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leading to many deaths.
I remember that in the 11 Sundays preceding Easter Sunday in 2019, there has been some sort of disruption against a Christian worship service and that at least 13 churches and one individual have been affected in nine districts, with about 35 incidents and about 70 violations against Christians being reported in 2019 prior to Easter attacks. Violations reported includes disrupting a service, assault, death threats, shouting obscenities and damage to property, forcible entry while services were ongoing, throwing stones and gathering outside places of worship in a threatening manner. Those leading prayers, hosting prayer services and participants have been threatened and obscene language used against them. Such incidents have also continued in the four years since Easter attacks.
And finally, I remember the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), under which I and many other critiques of the state have been arrested and detained, and many Tamils were subjected to prolonged detention, torture etc. The PTA had failed to prevent the Easter attacks, despite the availability of information, but it was quickly deployed to subjugate Muslims. The Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) proposed as a replacement to the PTA is unlikely to prevent or address terror attacks such as Easter attacks, but likely to terrorize ordinary people, especially ethnic and religious minorities and dissenters.
There is indeed lot to remember about Easter Sunday attacks. As I remember these, I’m conscious I maybe forgetting some. My prayers are for all these.