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Sri Lanka Easter attacks commission recommends criminal proceedings against President Sirisena

ECONOMYNEXT – The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the 2019 Easter bombings has recommended that criminal proceedings be instituted against former President Maithripala Sirisena and others, according to sections of the CoI report shared by opposition MP Harin Fernando. No action has been recommended against former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, though the commission has faulted him  for not raising the issue of not being invited to security council meetings in parliament or cabinet and also for an alleged “lax approach” to Islamic extremism.

Photos of the report’s conclusions as tweeted by MP Fernando this afternoon show the CoI noting that President Sirisena had departed to India and Singapore in the days preceding the deadly April 21 attack without appointing an acting Minister of Defence despite possessing knowledge of a possible threat from the perpetrators.

“No doubt, in terms of the Constitution, there appears to be discretion in the President in the making of an acting appointment. Nevertheless, in the given circumstances, President Sirisena should have made an acting appointment,” the report said.

“Based on the evidence, the COI is of the view that there is criminal liability on his part for the acts or omissions explained above. The COI recommends that the Attorney General consider instituting criminal proceedings against President Sirisena under any suitable provision in the Penal Code,” it added.

In its report, the commission also faults then Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Nilantha Jayawardena of “not attaching the weight he should’ve attached” to the intelligence of the threat when he conveyed it to Sirisena prior to the latter’s departure. This was also reflected in the communication that Jayawardena had sent to Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara on April 9, the report noted.

“In particular, he has diluted the weight of the intelligence by the Indian intelligence,” it said.

The CoI was appointed by former President Sirisena himself on September 22, 2019, to investigate the series of bombings that killed 267 people and injured at least 500, many of whom were Catholic or Christians of other denominations. The final report of the commission was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late January this year.

A delay in making the report public drew criticism from opposition lawmakers as well as Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who earlier this month urged the government to reveal the commission’s findings. The cardinal also declared his intention to go to an international court if Sri Lanka failed to bring the attackers and the masterminds to justice.

The final report was handed to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena in parliament today. The document is currently at the parliament library for the perusal of MPs.

Among other highlights of the report is a conclusion that, based on available evidence, certain officers and authorities are responsible for failure to pre-determine and prevent the attacks.

Accusing a number of Islamist groups that the CoI that caused or supported “racial and religious disturbances” for creating public unrest and disturbed social order, the commission also assigned blame to the Sinhalese Buddhist organisation knows as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) for having “contributed to the events”.

The CoI also concluded that the attacks that were carried out by Zaharan Hashim and others were mainly funded by the Ibrahim brothers Inshaf and Ilham who came from a wealthy family of spice traders.

The commission noted that since the constitutional crisis of 2018, in which President Sirisena ousted then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place, Sirsena had not invited Wickremesinghe for any of the National Security Council (NSC) meetings.

“The COI sees no justifiable reason for the failure to do so on the part of President Sirisena. However, it was incumbent on the Prime Minister to have raised this in Parliament or at the Cabinet in order to ensure that the status quo is restored. The failure on the part of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to do so and after the Easter attack take up the position that he was not invited is unacceptable,” the report said.

The commission has also highlighted what it calls the “lax approach” adopted by Wickremesinghe towards Islam extremism as Prime Minister. (Colombo/Feb23/2021)


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