For the month of January 2019, a total of 91 articles relating to religious freedom were carried in the English, Sinhala and Tamil press.
The Sinhala newspapers carried 54 of these articles, constituting 59 percent of the total coverage.
Meanwhile, Tamil and English newspapers accounted for 28 percent and 13 percent of the coverage respectively – i.e. 25 and 12 articles.
English newspapers carried 12 articles that had a bearing on religious freedom, of which 10 were neutral and 2 were supporting religious freedom.
The 2 supporting articles included coverage of the following events:
The construction of the tallest Buddha statue in Batticaloa – this event was reported as evidence of reconciliation between communities. The article notes that Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim people live in harmony in Batticaloa.
Vandalism of Buddha statues in Mawanella in December last year – this event was discussed in an article in the Daily Mirror. Notably, the article highlighted the importance of respecting other religions.
The Sinhala press featured 54 articles that have a bearing on religious freedom, with 37 neutral, 11 opposing and 6 supporting.
Lankadeepa had comparatively higher coverage on religious freedom with 25 articles, followed by Divaina with 20 articles.
The 6 supporting articles included the following:
A statement made by the Secretary of the All-Island Muslim Intellectuals Convention, Ahmed Mubarak, in relation to the vandalism of the Buddha statues in Mawanella. He commented that such incidents threaten the peaceful co-existence and understanding between communities. He further stated that legal action should be taken against such individuals, irrespective of religious differences.
AnopinionarticleinDinaminaclaimedthatifpropermeasureswerenottakenand false information was spread via social media with regard to the vandalism of the Buddha statues in Mawanella, a tragedy similar to the Sinhala-Muslim clashes in Mawanella, in 2002, might take place again. The article also noted that all communities should get together to defeat activities carried out with the motive of achieving narrow political objectives.
In a statementmade by MP M.A.Sumanthiran,heopinedthathedidnotobjectto Buddhism being given priority in the new constitution. However, he called for other religions to be treated equally.
An article in Anidda scrutinised media reporting, especially nationalist leaning papers such as Divaina ̧ for seemingly inciting further violence.
An opinion article that featured in Anidda and Divaina commended society’s reaction to the scene involving the destruction of Buddha statues in Mawanella. The article noted that cultural identities should nurture and exalt human values instead of inducing their decline. It further stated that the positive changes prompted by such interventions in the Muslim society should be visible to the Sinhalese.
In comparison, the 11 articles that were opposing in tone included the following:
An article in Lankadeepa stated that Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and Northern Provincial Councillor and former Tamil National Alliance MP K. Sivajilingam are against placing Buddha statues in the North and East, and a minority of extremists are destroying Buddhist relics. The article further noted that the North and East should be made a secular region.
Lankadeepa and Divaina articles stated that the vandalism of the Buddha statues in Mawanella was carried out by a group of Muslim extremists with the intention of creating conflict.
A feature article in Divaina stated that extremism in the North, against the Sinhala Buddhists, has reached its highest point. It further stated that if the extremist politicians of the North and East get police and land powers via federalism, massive destruction would be caused. The article also identified the group of individuals who forcibly entered a Buddhist temple to place a foundation stone for a Hindu kovil as ‘Pongu’ (Tamil gangs).
An editorial in Divaina condemned Muslims in the East, and the founder and former leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Prabhakaran in the North, for ‘bulldozing’ ancient Buddhist religious sites. The article further featured the alleged extremist activities of Hindus, such as setting fire to Catholic churches located around the country and vandalising Muslim religious sites. In both of these instances, the reportage conveys a sense of Buddhist antagonism towards religious minorities.
There were 25 articles relating to religious freedom in the Tamil press, with 22 neutral, two supporting and one opposing.
The two supporting articles included coverage of the following:
Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims took part in the Tamil Pongal festival held in Hatton.
Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, speaking at an event, pointed out that other communities had the wrong perception of Islam. He claimed that actions of Muslims should reflect the good qualities of their religion.
In comparison, the editorial that was opposing in tone discussed the incidents at the Neeraviyadi Pillayar Temple in Mullaitivu, and the opening of the Buddha statue within the temple premises on 23 January. The editorial also claimed that certain monks were attempting to claim ownership and take over the said land and building. It further reports these instances as part of a forced spread of Buddhism and claims that nothing has been done to curb this spread.
From October to December 2018, a total of 116 articles relating to religious freedom were carried in the English, Sinhala and Tamil press. The Tamil newspapers carried 64 of these articles, constituting 55 percent of the total coverage. Meanwhile, Sinhala and English newspapers accounted for 25 percent and 20 percent of the coverage respectively –i.e. 29 and 23 articles.
English newspapers carried 23 articles that had a bearing on religious freedom, of which 16 were neutral and 7 were supporting religious freedom.
The 7 supporting articles included coverage of the following events:
Aid for places of religious worship. This article reports that the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs will spend Rs. 155,000 to develop places of religious worship in Hail-Ela, Haputale, Lunugala, Uva Paranagama, Passara, Soranathota, and Welimada.10
The President’s dedication in spreading values of Theravada Buddhism.
President Maithiripala Sirisena expressed his dedication to deliver the values of Theravada Buddhism to the world while protecting its philosophy and by joining hands with all countries in the region. 11
Related reporting on the vandalisation of Buddha statues in Mawanella on 26 December 2018. These reports called for strict implementation of the law against ‘extremist’ actions’, and also featured voices of political actors who advocated for religious harmony and reconciliation. Notably, the English press did not make reference to the ethnicity of the suspects.12
The Sinhala press featured 29 articles that have a bearing on religious freedom, with 17 neutral, 9 opposing and 3 supporting.
With 13 articles, Divaina had comparatively higher coverage on religious freedom, followed by Lankadeepa with 10 articles.
The 3 supporting articles included coverage of the following events:
In comparison, the 9 articles that were opposing in tone included coverage of the following:
There were 64 articles relating to religious freedom in the Tamil press, with 26 supporting, 35 neutral and 3 opposing religious freedom.
The 26 supporting articles included coverage of the following events:
A statement made by State Minister of Education, Velusamy Radhakrishnan, who stated that no one has the right to forcibly convert students to other religions, as they could have a psychological mind set where they are unable to take crucial decisions, and warned that steps would be taken against those who attempted to do so.
A regional conference on religious harmony held in Ampara.
Reported attempts by the Department of Archaeology to take over the land belonging to the Vedukkunari temple to build a Buddhist temple. The article reports on the move being thwarted following protests organised by the administrative board and the public. Further, a directive issued by the police to prevent the administration and the public from entering the temple premises was also withdrawn following protests. The article also condemns acts of the department, specifically ones targeting Hindu temples.
Observation made by Government Agent of the Trincomalee District,
N.A.A. Pushpakumara. He stated that conducting religious functions at the Divisional Secretariat – where members of all communities take part – would pave the way for reconciliation.
Statement made by the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev. Fidelis Fernando, at an event held at the Mannar Education Zone. The Bishop stated that religious leaders should respect all religions and languages.
A comment made by the Secretary of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), V. Anandasangaree. This statement was made following the unrest at the Kalmunai Municipal Council over the controversy surrounding the petition to remove a Hindu temple. He called upon those who believed in God to respect places of worship belonging to other religions. Furthermore, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) member of the Kalmunai Municipal Council, A. Wijeratnam, remarked that the move obstructed the worshipping rights of Tamils.
Deputy Education Director for Sammanthurai,AhmedKiyas,statedthat if students of all three communities studied together, there would be a permanent solution. He outlined that all religions taught good values and added that students should learn about other religions and communities starting from their childhood.
Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami’s Ameer Ish Sheik stated that no one should impose the uniqueness of one’s religion on others and they should live harmoniously with people of other communities and religions.
A religious reconciliation exhibition in Mannar.
Nuwara Eliya District Coordinator for the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Viranjana Sumanasekara, stated that religious leaders should play an important role in fostering religious reconciliation in the country.
Compensation provided for worship places affected by the war in the Eastern Province. Accordingly, Minister M.L.A.M. Hizbullah handed over LKR 1,000,000 compensation to two mosques and LKR 300,000 to one mosque all of which are located in Kaththankudy.