By Vishvanath

The Easter Sunday terror attacks (2019), which destroyed more than 270 precious lives, have brought about a situation where the truth has become a casualty of divisive politics, which has contaminated the question for justice.

Truth defies a concrete definition. It is a complex concept that has given rise to many philosophical and political questions and discourses. Pontius Pilate asked, “What’s truth?” Various theories about truth have led to the emergence of the concept called ‘fluid truth’, which means that truth is not fixed or absolute and therefore is open to interpretation. The proponents of it acknowledge the complexity of truth and the need to examine all perspectives and sources of information instead of accepting them uncritically, and to recognize the influence of bias and perception in shaping what we perceive to be the truth.

It is against this backdrop that the demand being made in some quarters that everything possible must be done to get at the truth about the Easter Sunday attacks, and various allegations and counter-allegations traded by individuals and organizations over the 2019 carnage should be viewed.

Gotabaya sees red

Ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who calls himself euphemistically the Seventh Executive President of Sri Lanka, has written a letter to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith refuting the latter’s allegations.

The Cardinal said at a recent media briefing that in 2021, that President Rajapaksa, one day receiving the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCOI), which probed the Easter Sunday terror attacks (2019), informed him that it was difficult to implement the PCOI recommendations because such action would warrant the banning of individuals and organizations that were supportive of him (Gotabaya).

Gotabaya has said in his letter that the Cardinal also made the following allegations against him: “That I had delayed giving the Cardinal a copy of the first volume of the Presidential Commission report and that I had not given him the remaining volumes; that I had appointed a six-member Cabinet sub-committee to selectively implement only a few of the recommendations made by the various committees and commissions appointed to inquire into the Easter Sunday attacks, and that I had transferred the CID officers investigating the Easter Sunday attacks and even imprisoned one such senior officer in order to sabotage the investigation.”

Categorically denying that he ever spoke to the Cardinal over the phone after the PCOI report was submitted to him, Gotabaya has said the Muslim community in general did not vote for him and he cannot possibly have had any allies in any of the organizations that need to be banned over their complicity in the attacks. He has also claimed that after studying the PCOI report himself he had it referred to the Attorney General, and thereafter the copies of it were sent to religious leaders including the Cardinal. Justifying the appointment of a six-member Cabinet sub-committee, he has said he did so to apportion to the relevant government departments the task of implementing the PCOI report as they would not have been able to act without instructions from the Cabinet. He has said, the then CID Director was transferred by the Police Commission on recommendations of the IGP, and that officer was subsequently interdicted by the Police Commission over some leaked recordings of his telephone conversations with the then Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake. The officer was later remanded by the Courts over an alleged fabrication of evidence in a criminal case, Gotabaya has said, noting that the CID was under the Director concerned when it failed to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks. Criminals have to be brought to justice not by politicians, but the police, the Attorney General and the Judiciary in tandem, Gotabaya has told the Cardinal.

The sting of Gotabaya’s letter to the Cardinal is in its tail. The letter ends thus: “The public should take good note of the fact that His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith either glosses over the responsibility of, or expressly absolves the two parties mentioned above, while continuing to relentlessly attack and criticize me over the Easter Sunday suicide bombings.” This could be considered an attempt by the ousted President to play the victim.

The Cardinal is expected to respond to Gotabaya’s letter soon. 

Timeline of probes

The Cardinal’s consternation is understandable, given the inordinate delay in serving justice. There have been four probes into the Easter Sunday attacks, which shook the country on April 21, 2019. The following day, the then President Maithripala Sirisena set up a presidential committee headed by Justice Vijith Malalgoda to investigate the carnage. The committee submitted its report on 10 June 2019, but it has not been made public. 

While the Malalgoda committee probe was on, on May 22, 2019, the Yahapalana government appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to investigated the tragedy. The UNP-led UNF government had an axe to grind with President Sirisena, who had broken ranks with it and even tried to sack Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe; in late 2018, he went so far as to appoint his former boss and ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, but had to reappoint Wickremesinghe PM due to a judicial intervention.

Fearing that the PSC report would be critical of him, on Sept. 22, 2019, President Sirisena appointed the aforesaid PCOI to probe the Easter Sunday attacks; it continued to function under President Rajapaksa after the 2019 regime change.

The PSC with a majority of UNF members submitted its report running into 272 pages to the parliament on Oct. 23 2019, hinting at the possibility that the terror attacks had been allowed to happen to turn public opinion against the UNF government and facilitates a regime change. The PCOI submitted its report to President Rajapaksa in January 2021. It held a number of persons including Sirisena responsible for failure to prevent the terrorist attacks and recommended criminal proceedings against them. But its recommendations have not been implemented much to the consternation of the Catholic Church and the families of the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has held Gotabaya responsible for the non-implementation of the PCOI recommendations.

The police probe into the Easter Sunday attacks is still on, and its status is not known. Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles has offered to brief the Catholic Church leaders on the police investigations and take their views on board. But his offer has gone unaccepted.

Politicization of the tragedy

The Easter Sunday tragedy has been politicized like all other issues in Sri Lanka. The SJB and the JVP-led NPP have said that, if they are voted into power, they will have the attacks fully probed, the masterminds behind them traced, and ensure that justice is done. Both parties have given written assurances to the Cardinal, who has publicly stated that Gotabaya took him for a ride in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election by offering to have the tragedy thoroughly probed and justice served.

Interestingly, the SJB leaders were in the UNP-led government, when the Easter Sunday tragedy happened, and the JVP had the father of two Easter Sunday bombers on its National List. These facts are being held against the SJB and the JVP/NPP by their rivals, and allegations and counter-allegations by various persons have stood in the way of the quest for justice, and prevented a concerted effort being made to get to the bottom of the terror attacks, which were being debated in the parliament at the time of writing.  

Claims and counter-claims being made over the Easter Sunday attacks lack consistency and coherence. Sirisena has made quite a stir by claiming that he has recently learnt who actually masterminded the Easter Sunday carnage. Others are no better. If one goes through the testimonies which those who are levelling allegations against each other made before the PCOI, one will see that most claims they are making at present vastly differ from the ones they previously made, insisting that they were true. They have about-turns and are making new claims and allegations.

Unless the issue of the Easter Sunday attacks is depoliticized, and all those who seek the fluid truth remove their blinkers, re-evaluate their claims and positions, accommodate new perspectives and evidence, and resolve to make a concerted effort to have a thorough, credible probe conducted, it will be well-nigh impossible to trace the terror masterminds.


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