SRI LANKA: Betrayal of the victims
On the first anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Easter Day attacks, a priest who ministered to the wounded and dying that day has warned that more innocent people could be killed by suicide bombers and that the government is to blame for not doing enough to bring the culprits to justice.
Speaking exactly 12 months on from the blasts, which killed more than 250 people and injured at least 500 others, Father Nishantha Cooray said Sri Lanka’s new government does not want to bring the culprits to trial for fear of upsetting Muslim politicians in the country.
About 135 people were arrested following the 21st April 2019 attacks, in which lslamist extremists were accused of bombing hotels as well as three churches packed with people attending Easter services.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Cooray warned: “If the government does not take the necessary steps to find the persons responsible, there will be many more attacks in the future.”
Questioning the state inquiry into the killings, he said: “Although we have completed one year [since the bombings], no acceptable step has been taken in arresting the persons involved in the crime.”
The Franciscan, who gave his testimony in London’s Houses of Parliament at last October’s launch of ACN’s ‘Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith’, said: “As a priest who ministered at the funerals of victims of the attacks and who experienced the true agony of my people, I wait for them to have justice.”
Saying that the new government, elected in November, had been slow to act, like the previous administration, he said: “The newly elected government started the second chapter of the same book with the same writing style… They did not want to hurt the Muslim politicians.”
Father Cooray said the new government has broken an election promise made to the Church that it would arrest those suspected of involvement in the Easter Day blasts, a pledge, he said, that had garnered many votes.
“Now, we feel as if we are betrayed. Just to arouse the emotions of the people, the representatives of the government say something about the investigations [into the bombings]. It is only a good slogan for the next election.”
Aid to the Church in Need has provided support for bomb survivors and their families and Father Cooray said: “The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka helped the families of the victims in every possible way.
“The Buddhists extended their generosity tremendously as well. This was a wonderful time in which we experience religious harmony immensely.”
Father Cooray said that, in spite of the COVID-19 curfew in Sri Lanka, the anniversary of the Easter blasts is being marked with the ringing of church bells, a two-minute silence and a lamp lit in memory of the dead.
Sri Lanka’s Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, used the occasion of his Easter Mass last week to say that Catholics in the country had forgiven those responsible for the blasts.