Easter attack debate sheds no new light, more of the same accusations traded

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By Sandun Jayawardana  

Five years after the Easter Sunday attack, Parliament held yet another debate on the matter. This was the third such debate on the subject and for the most part, it followed the pattern of the debates that preceded it, with various parties and individual MPs hurling accusations at each other as to who was ultimately to blame for the tragedy.

The three-day adjournment debate on the attack was moved by the Opposition on Wednesday; with MPs blasting the Government for what they claimed was a failure to ensure justice for victims of the atrocity. They accused the Government of trying to cover up the truth behind the attack and claimed that the real “mastermind” was yet to be revealed. The Government meanwhile, dismissed the allegations that the attack was part of a “conspiracy” to bring Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power, stressing there was no evidence to back such claims. Government MPs charged that the allegations were being made by those who were part of the then Government at the time of the attack, with the aim of trying to mask their own failure to prevent them.  

Investigations into the attack have proceeded lethargically under several governments and presidents, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Puttalam District MP Niroshan Perera alleged as he moved the adjournment motion. Certain Police and security forces officers who are facing accusations over the attack were continuing to occupy senior positions, resulting in justice being denied to the victims, he charged. He said Parliament had a responsibility to ensure that the victims receive justice due to them.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said a future SJB government would establish a special investigation commission comprising both local and foreign judges and investigators to conduct a transparent probe into the attacks. The recommendations made by this commission will be strictly implemented while the Attorney General will initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible. A permanent high court will also be established to hear the cases. He also pledged to establish a Public Prosecutor’s Office independent of the Attorney General and stressed that these measures will enable an SJB government to bring all those responsible for the attacks to justice.

There is a justifiable suspicion whether the Easter Sunday attackers and those tasked with stopping them had an understanding, National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told Parliament. “If this suspicion is correct, it would mean that the country is always insecure and under threat, he added. “This is not something that we should let become buried through politics or the passage of time.”

Mr Dissanayake also addressed the allegation surrounding his party’s connection to Mohammed Ibrahim, father of two of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers. He acknowledged that Ibrahim was a candidate on the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) national list at the 2015 parliamentary election. He however, noted that before being made a JVP candidate, Ibrahim had been an award winning entrepreneur who even received the ‘Desha Keerthi’ award from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mr Dissanayake also showed photographs of Ibrahim receiving awards from former Ministers Prof G L Peiris, Piyasena Gamage, Sujeewa Senasinghe and former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake. Ibrahim was arrested following the Easter attack and spent nine months in Criminal Investigation Department (CID) detention, along with a further two years in remanded. “He has now been out on bail for two years. Has any case been filed against him over the past five years? The authorities have failed to charge him with any crime,” said Mr Dissanayake, urging the Government to take action if he had any connection to the attack.

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage meanwhile, urged the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference not to politicise the Easter attack. He claimed the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government had conducted extensive investigations to identify and arrest those behind the attack. “We have heard this allegation that a group of Muslim extremists carried out this suicide attack to bring Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a Sinhala Buddhist leader to power. Such stories are only good for children,” said Mr Aluthgamage.

Addressing Parliament on Friday during the final day of the debate, Public Security Minister Tiran Alles stated that his first course of action upon assuming duties in his post was to reach out to the Cardinal Ranjith to inform him that he would provide all available files on the Police investigation into the attacks up till then. “I urged him to go through those files and tell me about any shortcomings in them, but I did not receive any answer to that request. I then made the same request to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and asked them to go through all the investigation reports along with their lawyers and to tell me if there were shortcomings, and to provide any information they had that the Police may not necessarily have. That also did not happen,” said the minister.

Mr Alles requested the Archbishop, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, their lawyers, representatives of the opposition and the Police to get together to go through the investigation reports. He noted that many shortcomings had already been identified in the probe and that these had been highlighted separately without any cover-up. “We have already debated this subject for 11 days, at a total cost of about Rs 130 million in taxpayer funds. I urge everyone get together to end this,” said the minister.