Catholic leaders in Sri Lanka are urging the government to step up its efforts to investigate the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, which killed more than 260 people and injured more than 500.
Thousands of Catholics in Sri Lanka dressed in black as they attended Masses and protested outside churches on March 7, UCA News reported. These protests are expected to continue as participants continue to call for action on a report regarding the attacks, which was presented to the government last month.
Father Jude Chrishantha Fernando, director of social communications in the Archdiocese of Colombo, said the demonstrations “are not just a matter of religion or nation, they are a cry for justice for future generations,” according to UCA News.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka asked that “the attorney general be given full power and the freedom to prosecute the perpetrators immediately.”
“We are all waiting for the immediate and transparent process of justice which is to be carried out with a sense of urgency. In the name of truth and justice and for the sake of peace and security of all people in our dear country,” said Bishop Winston Fernando of Badulla, head of the conference, in a statement.
Nine suicide bombers attacked two Catholic churches, one evangelical Christian church, four hotels, and a housing complex April 21, 2019. The church attacks came in the middle of Easter Sunday services. Two Sri Lankan groups who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group have been blamed in the attacks.
Then-President Maithripala Sirisena created a five-person commission to investigate the attacks. The commission’s final report was presented to the president last month.
However, current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa then appointed a new six-member committee to study the report without sharing the report with the Church or with the attorney general to prosecute suspects.
The refusal to release the contents of the report has led to criticism, with fears that corruption or negligence have prevented prosecution of collaborators in the attack. The study committee is composed only of government ministers who are members of the ruling coalition.
“We have a lot of doubts about this whole process, the whole thing is getting delayed,” Bishop Fernando told the Associated Press last month.
Fernando criticized the makeup of the committee. It was not balanced, and its integrity can be questioned because some members have other court cases pending against them, he said.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has requested a copy of the report and called on the president to release it publicly.
The cardinal has warned that he would seek help from international Church bodies if the government does not quickly act on the report.
Rajapaksa’s office has said the new committee has a mandate to identify what measures various agencies should take to implement the presidential commission’s recommendations, the Associated Press said.
In October 2020, five of seven suspects arrested in connection with the attacks were released by the government, on the stated grounds of lack of evidence.
At that time, Ranjith said security officials had confirmed to him that there was sufficient evidence against many of the suspects who had been arrested. The cardinal, along with friends and family of the victims, have said they fear the release of the suspects meant corruption, or a lack of a thorough investigation, on the part of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department.
Ahead of the attacks, foreign intelligence gave warnings to the government. However, a communication breakdown between the then-president and prime minister reportedly led to a failure to coordinate a security response.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal. Its population is more than 21 million. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of Sri Lanka’s Christians.
The country has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009.