* About 200 Youths From “”Diga Kalliya” (Group of Diga)Unleashed Violence(Diga derived from Digamadulla)
* Sinhala Hardliner Ex-MP Had Meetings With youths and Police officials in Amparai Before Violence
* Mosque and Office, 3 Eateries,1 Grocery Store, 8 Vehicles Damaged in Night of Terror in Amparai Town
* 35 Persons From Mob Identified;5 Surrender;6 Arrested &4 Remanded;Police File Six Cases
* Crowd Numbering 2000 Including 200 Bhikkus Gather At Courts To Protest Legal Action
* Ampara Muslims Pressured to Refrain From Legal Action if they Want to Continue Living There Peacefully
* Alleged “infertility Pills” In “New Cassim Hotel” Beef Gravy Found To Be Lumps of Flour By Govt Analyst
Sri Lanka struggling for long to recover from the debilitating effects of a protracted civil war and progress resolutely along the road to economic prosperity suffered a tremendous set back in the last days of February and early days of March with the outbreak of organized anti-Muslim violence. Ethno-religious neo-fascist elements formed themselves into mobs and unleashed a terrible spree of violent attacks targeting Mosques, Muslim owned busineses ,shops, houses and vehicles in Amparai town and different parts of Kandy district.
The anti-Muslim violence erupted first in Amparai town on Feb 26th/27th night and was followed by attacks in Digana,Kandy on March 4th .Thereafter it spread to other areas in Kandy district like Teldeniya,Pallekalle,Katugastota and Akurana etc. The damage in Amparai is very much less when compared to the destruction in Kandy. In Amparai one mosque and adjacent structures , Three Muslim owned eateries, one grocery store and eight vehicles were attacked and damaged. A few Muslim dwellings were stoned but no families were harmed as most had taken shelter in neighbouring homes or fled to shrub jungle areas. All this happened within a few hours on one night in Amparai. In Kandy the situation was different.
The violence in different parts of Kandy was intermittently protracted and continued for over four days and nights at a stretch despite curfews. According to details provided by Muslim civil society organizations, 62 houses were destroyed and 79 houses damaged. Valuable jewellery and electronic assets in many houses were taken by the mobs.91 businesses and shops were torched completely and looted while 22 were partially damaged. 60 vehicles ranging from lorries to two-wheelers were destroyed. 25 Mosques came under threat. Of these 4 were damaged extensively while 13 suffered partial damage. The extent of damage differed from Mosque to Mosque.
Over 325 Muslim families were displaced in different parts of Kandy. One Muslim boy was killed and twelve injured. The death was caused when the boy got trapped in a burning building and choked on the fumes. A Sinhalese man in a mob was killed when the explosive he was carrying to throw at a Mosque exploded accidently. Eleven others were injured in the incident. Physical harm experienced by Muslims was comparatively low because most people had been able to run away on time and also because the organized mobs seem to have been instructed by their masters to destroy property, businesses and assets owned by Muslims.
Distinct Pattern in Organized Violence
There appears to have been a distinct pattern in the organized violence directed against innocent Muslim people. The attacking mobs were mainly “strangers” transported from outside places into the targeted areas. Most of them masked their faces. The Mobs were guided by a few locals. Causing loss of life or limb does not seem to have been the priority. The primary objective was to destroy or undermine the economic power of Muslims.Hence Muslim owned businesses, shops,houses and vehicles were specifically targeted.The secondary objective was to deliver a symbolic message or threat to the Muslims practising the Islamic faith. Thus Mosques were attacked. The violence was accompanied by a well -organized hate campaign against Muslims via the social media justifying the attacks on the basis of canards and false propaganda..
In comparative terms the violence in Amparai is very much less than the violence perpetrated in the Kandy district. Amparai was a single”operation” restricted to the town while there were a series of widely distributed acts of violence in Kandy. Although the quantitative nature of the anti-Muslim violence was greater in the Kandy district the Amparai violence in a sense was qualitatively more dangerous. The scope and scale of violence in Kandy was intense, lengthier and more widespread than that of Amparai. In Kandy the death of the Lorry driver assaulted by Muslim youths was used as the pretext for launching violence. In Ampara it was alleged that a Muslim run eatery was mixing contraceptives and sterilising drugs in food served to Sinhala customers. Consuming them would affect sperm in men and render them impotent it was alleged. It would also affect the wombs of women and prevent conception.The implication was that a Muslim conspiracy had been hatched to reduce the birth rate of the Sinhala people and convert them into a minority by diminishing their numbers.
In Ampara/i the reason cited as cause for the violence was hilarious but had the potential of causing much harm and havoc.The accusation of “Wanda Pethi” is absurd and ridiculous as scientifically or medically it is not possible to prevent “babies forming in wombs” through administering contraceptive drugs in food particularly in roti or meat curry. It is not possible to weaken sperm by mixing drugs in food as any drug would lose potency when being heated to a high degree on a stove or cooker.
Yet this is what was alleged and propagated to trigger off and later justify the Amparai violence.Sadly quite a number of people believed the blatant lie. The danger is that had this canard been believed by large numbers of Sinhalese (They did not) it would have enabled the hatemongers to target Muslim hotels and eateries in other parts of the country for the defence of the Sinhala nation. The Amparai attacks therefore assume a great degree of importance. Also the Violence in Kandy somewhat overtook and overshadowed the earlier events in Amparai resulting in Ampara/i going off the radar.I shall therefore focus on what happened and is happening now in Amparai in this article. I have already written about the Amparai violence to some extent in our sister paper “Daily Mirror” last week. However this article will incorporate some fresh details shedding new light on the happenings along with an account of what had transpired in the aftermath of the attack.
Amparai District Was Created In 1961
Amparai is an eastern province town situated 360 km from Colombo. It is spelt in Sinhala as Ampara and in Tamil as Amparai. Both spellings are used interchangeably as the pronunciation is almost the same. Ampara/Amparai is the name of the town as well as that of the administrative district within which it is located. It was created in April 1961 by carving out the Southern regions of the sprawling Batticaloa district and by adding on parts of Moneragala district. The Ampara electoral district is now named as Digamadulla which reportedly was the ancient name of the region. Ampara is also the name of an electoral division/electorate. The Muslims are the single largest ethnicity in the overall Amparai district which comprises the Ampara, Pottuvil, Sammanthurai and Kalmunai electoral divisions. The Muslims are also the largest community in the electoral divisions of Kalmunai,Sammanthurai and Pottuvil while the Sinhalese are the majority in Amparai electoral division.
Earlier Amparai was a very small place inhabited mainly by Muslim and Tamil people. During the colonial period European hunters used Amparai as a base camp from which they launched hunting expeditions. The place began booming after the Gal-Oya irrigation scheme came into operation shortly after independence. Workers engaged in the construction of the Inginiyagala dam began to settle down here. After the new Amparai administrative district was created in 1961, Ampara town became the administrative capital of the district. Though more than tw/thirds of the population is Tamil speaking the administrative capital was located in “Sinhala” Ampara instead of a coastal “Tamil speaking” town. However Amparai still remains an urban council while places like Kalmunai and Akkaraipatru in the same district have been elevated as municipalities.Also Sinhalese administrators have been regularly appointed as Government Agents and District secretaries despite Muslims being the single largest ethnicity in the district. When Ampara/i administrative district became an electoral district under the proportionate representtion electoral system it was named as “Digamadulla”.
As stated earlier Amparai was originally a Tamil speaking place which got gradually became Sinhalaised after the Gal -Oya Irrigation scheme and construction of Inginiyagala dam. The establishment of an airport and the setting up of a Sugar manufacturing plant expedited and enlarged this process of Sinhalaisation further. The 1956 and 1958 anti- Tamil violnce saw Many Tamils fleeing from Amparai twn and its outskirts. Thereafter many Tamils and Muslims began to move out of Amparai gradually. The final “push” came in the anti- Tamil violence of 1981 in which even the poor sanitary workers and toilet cleaners and their families were targeted. This resulted in the bulk of remaining Tamil families pulling out of town.
Ampara/Amparai town is now predominantly Sinhala with a sprinkling of Muslim and Tamil people. According to figures from the Amparai mosque only 104 Muslim families are registered with the mosque as permanent residents of the town. The Tamil population is even smaller though a Tamil school with two teachers still exists. Many Muslim and Tamil Government servants serving in Amparai district come during week-days to Ampara town as their workplaces are situated there. But they prefer to stay in other places and commute regularly to Ampara town instead of living there. The recent outbreak of anti-Muslim violence is likely to further brand Ampara as a “Sinhala” as opposed to a multi-ethnic town.
“New Cassim Hotel” On D.S. Senanayake Street
The New Cassim Hotel is a Muslim owned and Muslim run eatery on DS Senanayake street in Amparai town. The building belongs to a Sinhala person who has leased out the premises. The hotel was originally named Cassim Hotel after the person who established it nearly 40 years ago. He was very popular and much – liked in Amparai.When Mr. Cassim died a few years ago, hundreds of Sinhalese hired buses and went to Kattankudi to attend the funeral . After a new management also hailing from Kattankudi in Batticaloa district took it over the hotel was renamed New Cassim Hotel but most people still refer to it as Cassim Hotel. The hotel reputed for its Egg roti,Kothu roti and Parotta (Barotta)is patronised mostly by Sinhala customers who relish the dishes cooked there.
Monday February 26th was a very busy day for the hotel as there were four funerals taking place in Amparai town. A lot of people from the outstations had come to attend the funerals. Many of them dropped in at “New Cassim Hotel” for a meal.Most of the food cooked on that day was consumed by the large number of customers. It was 9.40 pm when three Sinhala youths walked in.One of them was a known Amparai resident and regular customer of the Hotel. He worked at the National Water Supply and Drainage Board and was generally known as “Waterboard Ranga”.The trio was in a state of intoxication. They wanted Kothu roti and Beef curry. Since most of the cooked food was over, the hotel employees were gearing up to close early. So the manager cum cashier Ahamed Lebbe Bharshith told the youths food supplies was over and that they were about to wind up for the day. Waterboard Ranga had then said he was a diabetic and had taken an insulin injection. Therefore he needed to eat soon and wanted beef curry.
Since Ranga was a regular customer and pleaded for food on grounds of being a diabetic who had injected insulin, Bharshith took pity on him. He called the elderly cook who was called “Kaakaa” (elder brother) by staff and asked him what could be done. The hotel staff numbeing six with the cashier had stored some Parottas and beef curry for their own dinner. “Kaakaa”suggested that they could share it with the Sinhala customers. So the Parottas and beef curry was brought and the customers including the “diabetic” tucked in. As the beef curry diminished, a few puffy particles were found floating in the gravy. Waterboard Ranga blew a fuse and called the cashier and demanded to know what it was.
What happens in eateries of this sort is that they mix flour with the gravy in a meat curry to thicken the liquid if it was too watery. Usually the flour is mixed well and dissolves without trace in the gravy. But sometimes it does not dissolve properly and thick lumps of flour remain. This was what had happened in this instance. So the Sinhala youth was told it was “Paanpiti” (bread flour or wheat). But he refused to believe it. Since Bharshith was not very fluent in Sinhala he asked another employee – a waiter who was a Sinhalese – to explain. But Ranga was not convinced. So the cook known as “Kaakaa” was brought to explain but still the angry customer was not satisfied.
“Wanda Pethi Dammadha?(Did You Put Contaceptives?)”
Waterboard Ranga then began making a few calls on his mobile phone. Thereafter events took a dangerous turn. He started accusing the hotel cashier and staff of mixing “Wanda Pethi” (contraceptive drugs or sterilising capsules) with the beef curry to prevent Sinhalese from having children. He began asking ” Wanda Pethi Dammadha?” (Did you put contraceptive drugs). It was denied vehemently by the cashier, cooks and waiters. When they said no ,they were slapped hard. Two more Sinhala youths arrived with iron rods. Now the mood turned more belligerent. A waiter was once again asked whether they put “Wanda pethi” into the beef curry. When he said “No” he was assaulted with the rods and sustained head injuries. The cashier cum manager Bharshith was approached again and asked ” Wanda Pethi Dammadha?”. At the same time the scene was being recorded by the “camera” in the telephone. Intimidated and perturbed, the youthful Muslim cashier got confused. He said “yes”. Bharshith was to explain later that he had not understood what Wanda Pethi meant. He had confused “Maa” meaning flour in Tamil with the “Maa” sound in “Dammadha”. Besides he had also seen the fate of the employee who said “No” and realised that he too would be beaten if he replied in the negative.. So he said “Yes” to the repeated question whether Wanda Pethi had been put in the curry.
This was seized upon by the Sinhala youth and his accomplices. The “cashier confession” about mixing Wanda Pethi in food was uploaded and began spreading like wildfire via internet.
By this time a large crowd had gathered. The Police who had been called earlier arrived at 10.15 pm. The cops were shown the telephone confession. The Policemen also viewed the CCTV cameras and knew what had happened.After a huge commotion the Policemen seized the alleged “Wanda Pethi” as evidence and took away the cashier and cook to be questioned further about allegedly mixing sterilising drugs with food served in the hotel. They were told that they were being locked up in the Poice station for their personal security. Meanwhile Waterboard Ranga came to the Police station and lodged a formal complaint that the Cassim Hotel was serving wanda Pethi in beef curry to Sinhala customers. After this the two Muslim youths were given a few blows by the cops though they were supposedly locked up for their own protection.However they were released on Tuesday evening due to the efforts of three Muslim lawyers.
“Kuralgal Iyakkam”(Voices Movement)
The lawyers were affiliated to a voluntary group called “Kuralgal Iyakkam” (Voices Movement) and were acting on its behalf.”Kuralgal” or Voices is a voluntary movement consisting of young Muslim professionals. It focuses mainly on human rights issues and functions as a ‘voice for the voiceless’. Three young eastern Muslim lawyers namely Muhaimin Khalid of Kalmunai, Hassan Rushdi of Addalaichchenai and Radheef Ahamed of Akkaraipatru set out to Amparai on Tuesday Feb 27th upon hearing of the anti-Muslim violence in Amparai.It was due to their efforts that the “New Cassim Hotel” employees were released fom Police custody.
Being locked up in a Police cell was not the worst calamity to befall “New Cassim Hotel” employees. While the Police were conducting their inquiry at the eatery, a large number of Sinhala youths had arrived at the hotel in a mini-bus and motor cycles and scooters. Soon a mob of over 60 persons gathered on the spot. The mob then started attacking “New Cassim Hotel” and damaged it. They seized the CCTV Cameras in the Hotel and in the vicinity and took them away. Two Policemen supposedly on duty at the Cassim Hotel premises saw all what was happening but did not do anything to restrain the mob.
“Diga Kalliya” (Group From Diga)
The worst was still to come. At about 11.00 pm over a hundred Sinhala youths arrived in Amparai town in jeeps,vans and motor cycles.These youths joined forces with the earlier batch that had targeted the Cassim hotel. Now there were over 200 men at the spot. Interestingly the youths identified themselves as belonging to the “Diga Kalliya” (Group from Diga). Diga is derived from Digamadulla the historical name of Amparai and official name of the electoral district. It is suspected that the “Diga kalliya” is an Ampara based affiliate of the Bodu bala Sena(BBS).
The mob then went on the rampage. The mob attacked another Muslim hotel “Rahmaniya” and a Muslim owned grocery store named “New Mahajana stores”. The people inside both premises took refuge in the homes of their Sinhala neighbours. The mob stoned a few Muslim houses where the inmates had fled and also attacked another small eating house owned by Muslims. The “Diga Kalliya” then marched towards the “Jumma Masjid” Ampara Mosque . A defender jeep was driven fast to smash the gate and break it open. The mob then moved in after assaulting the watcher .
Initially the wall in front of the Mosque was demolished. It was rather a bizarre act. Apparently there was a suspected motive in this act of perceived madness. The recent Local authority elections had seen the “Pohottuwa” party (SLPP) romping home as the winners in the Amparai urban council poll. When the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Party pasted “victory and Thank you” posters all over Amparai town, some were affixed to the Mosque wall too. It is widely presumed that most Muslims in Amparai town voted for the UNP and not the SLPP at the local poll. The mosque authorities had torn down all the lotus bud posters saying they were defacing the wall. A heated argument had ensued betwen the SLPP supporters and Mosque authorities.
It is suspected therefore that the demolition of the Mosque premises wall was motivated by the poster incident. The mob however did not stop after destroying the wall. They damaged eight vehicles parked inside Mosque precincts. Recently planted mango tree saplings were uprooted and destroyed. The mosque itelf was attacked. Doors were broken down and windows smashed, Copies of the Holy Quran were defiled and burnt. The Mosque office adjoining the main mosque was also attacked and damaged. There were also small structures with rooms within the Mosque precincts where people connected to the mosque were staying. Those structures were also damaged and people assaulted. The Muadhin who conducts or leads prayers was also beaten. According to the victims of the attack, people in the mob had kept shouting in Sinhala” You Muslims are trying to destroy the Sinhala race through Contraceptive drugs. This is in retaliation for that. Let your “Allaah” (God) save you all if he can.It is clear that the attackers did not intend killing anyone. Had they wanted to they could have easily done so. Their aim was to destroy Muslim property and attack the Mosque.
Cops Seen Conversing With Mobsters Jovially
The Police station in Ampara was less than a Kilometer away from the Mosque. The cops had been informed of the attack as soon the mob arrived on the scene. Besides the Police already knew of violence in the town and some cops were even passive onlookers while the attacks continued. The mob lingered in town until 1.30 pm but the Police made no effort to tackle the violent elements. Some cops were seen conversing with the mobsters in a jovial manner. It was as if a heroic war had been waged and a deadly enemy had been vanquished. It would have taken the Police only three minutes to reach the Mosque from the station if they wanted to stop the attack on the Mosque.Yet they went to the Mosque premises leisurely only 55 minutes after they had been informed by people at the Mosque..
When the Ampara incidents occurred the Kandy district violence had not begun.Hence Ampara/Amparai became the focus of attention. It was wrongly reported that Sinhalese and Muslims were clashing whereas the reality was a mob attack without any resistance. Moreover it was being propagated that the violence was due to allegations of contraceptive drugs being served to sinhala customers in Muslim restaurants. This again was utterly false. The Govt analyst A. Weliyange subsequently nailed that canard conclusively. After examining the ” stuff ” suspected of being “Wanda Pethi” the Govt analyst ruled that the alleged contraceptive drugs were merely Particles of flour scientifically described as ‘Carbohydrates”. Later the resident represenative of the Worl Health Organization (WHO) and a group of eminent Sri Lankan medical professionals also went public on the issue. They stated unequivocally that drugs or pills rendering people temporarily infertile did not exist.
Superficially it may seem that all the violence and mayhem was caused by ill-founded suspicion over mere lumps of flour. But the truth seems to be different. The Wanda Pethi accusation was only a pretext to justify the violence against Muslims in Amparai. Violence had been pre-planned and well-organized. Hundreds of youths could not have assembled in Amparai town at such short notice unless preparations had been made beforehand. Moreover there is a qualitative difference between suddenly provoked spontaneous violence and deliberately executed pre-meditated violence. This is what happened in Amparai. The Wanda Pethi false alarm was only the flashpoint which triggered off the violence that was waiting to happen. The flour lumps in beef curry at New Cassim hotel provided the “raison d’etre” for unleashing pre-planned violence in the town.
Ex-Parliamentarian From Ampara District
It has now come to light that a former Parliamentarian from the district had been in Ampara town a few days prior to the attack. This politico who is notorious for his hawkish views had met with a lot of Sinhala youths during his stay in Amparai. It is suspected that the group known as “Diga Kalliya” consisting of youths from different political parties such as the UNP,SLFP and SLPP was formed as a result of this visit. The ex-MP also held a series of meetings with top Police officials in the district before he left. The subsequent lethargy shown by the Police in controlling violence or in prosecuting the offenders may have been due to the influence of the extremist politician.
When violence occurred in Ampara the Kandy troubles had not begun. So Amparai received a lot of attention intially. While it was being falsely propagated that Sinhalese were clashing with Muslims because Wanda Pethi had been served to Sinhalese in a Muslim restaurant, it was also becoming clear that only Muslims had been victimised and that the Police had not taken any action. Muslim political leaders including cabinet ministers began to exert pressure on the Govt to take action and arrest the culprits responsible for the attacks. The matter was first raised in cabinet by Ampara district MP and Primary industries minister Daya Gamage who urged prompt Govt action. He was followed by other Muslim and Tamil ministers like Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Badiutheen and Mano Ganesan. Meanwhile several Muslim MP’s went to Amparai town personally and requested the Police and administrative authorities to take action. It soon became apparent that the Police would soon be compelled to act or at least go through the motions of taking action.
In a separate development a meeting was held at the district secretariat to discuss ways and means of bringing about peace and normalcy in the area. A large number of Buddhist monks and local politicians including newly elected Amparai urban councillors from the SLPP, SLFP and UNP were present. Among those present was Ampara district MP Wimalaweera Dissanayake. The parliamentarian elected on the UPFA ticket now functions as a member of the Joint opposition. The Amparai Mosque Management board head A. L. Haaroon was not in town when the violence occurred. He too was present at the meeting. There was consensus that peace should be established and that Ampara residents should co-exist amicably as before. However several of the Bhikkus and politicians present suggested that no action should be taken against the “boys” who had unleashed violence because that would spoil things and be an impediment to Muslims resuming a normal life in Amparai. What this suggestion seemed to imply was that if the victimised Muslims wanted to live peacefully in Amparai the miscreants involved in the attacks should not be punished.
Five Youths Accompanied By Bhikku Surrendered To Police
On Wednesday Feb 28th five youths accompanied by a Buddhist monk “surrendered” themselves to the Police over the attack on New Cassim Hotel. Since Thursday March 1st was a Poya day they were produced in courts on Friday March 2nd. The case was heard before Ampara District judge Mrs.Lakmini Vidanagamage functioning in a magisterial capacity. It was taken up at about 1.30 pm as the Police requested for time. The three lawyers from ‘voices’ were present to watch the interests of victims affected by the violence. In an unusual move the Police filed “B” reports pertaining to the attack on New Cassim Hotel only. Police had no “B” reports about the Mosque and other incidents at that juncture. Police also produced in courts the “lumps of flour”found in the beef gravy at the hotel and said they were alleged sterilization drugs.These were sent by courts to the Govt analyst for examination.
Furthermore Police did not file charges under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) Act although Lanka is a signatory to the convention. Had they been charged under the ICCPR act as a hate crime , bail could not have been granted. Police also informed court that the incident at Cassim Hotel was a personal dispute and recommended that bail should be granted to the five surrendees. Under these circumstances courts had no option but to grant bail. Courts however directed police to obtain statements from the affected persons as it had not been done earlier. Incidently the Police action in court was guided and supervised by an SSP who was present there. Courts ordered furher investigations and put off the case for March 13th
While the case was being heard on March 2nd a large crowd had gathered outside. Around 2000 people including nearly 200 Buddhist monks were present. Many of those present, particularly the Bhikkus were from areas outside Amparai. The collective mood of the crowd was hostile and boisterous. The general feeling was that those responsible for the Amparai violence should not be penalised. There were also many glowing references to the “Diga Kalliya” as courageous patriots. At one point Muslim Congress MP and Deputy minister of Sports H.M.M. Harees who was present in Amparai was asked a question by a TV reporter. Angry members from the hostile crowd snatched the microphone away and began abusing the parliamentarian. This incident happened in front of a high -ranking Police official.
Prime Minister Ranil Weerasinghe In Oluvil Meeting
Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was scheduled to visit Amparai town on Saturday March 3rd and talk to the affected people besides inspecting the vandalised places. However he called it off at the last minute. The premier then went to Oluvil also in the Ampara district on the following day .He held a meeting in Oluvil at which the events of Amparai were discussed in great detail. Several MP’s including SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem, Senior Police officials and lawyers were present. It was explained clearly to PM Wickremesinghe that the Police were failing in their dutties in Amparai town. A security briefing about the “Diga Kalliya” and the visit of the ex-MP was also provided. Having understood the situation Wickremesinghe who was Law and Order Minister at that point of time directed senior Police officials from Batticaloa district to take over the investigations. A press communique faulting the Amparai Police was also issued. Two special Police teams were set up to probe the Amparai violence. Manwhile Muslim Congress MP Harees criticised the Prime minister publicly for failing to visit Amparai town despite travelling all the way up to Oluvil. He blamed UNP Minister Daya Gamage for purportedly blocking Ranil from visiting Amparai.
Until March 4th the violence in Amparai was the focus of attention. With violence breaking out on March 4th in Digana and then continuing for the next four days and nights in various parts of Kandy district ,Amparai was relegated to the backburner.As stated earlier the intense,wide-spread violence in Kandy overshadowed the limited one night of troubles in Amparai. Police however continued with their investigations. Statements were recorded and available CCTV camera footage was examined. 35 persons were identified as being allegedly involved in the violence. Some were taken into custody and questioned.
The Amparai violence matters were taken up before Mrs. K.P.R.L. Vidanagamage at the Magistrates courts again on March 13th. Despite having many lawyers at their disposal none of the Muslim political parties sent counsel to Amparai for the case. Apparently the limited Amparai violence had paled into insignificance when compared to the greater violence in Kandy. The suspects produced in courts were represented by counsel.The three lawyers from Voices movement were present in Amparai on March 13th. I contacted one of the lawyers , Radheef Ahamed and asked him as to what had transpired in courts.
Police File Six Cases In Ampara Courts
Radheef Ahamed told me that Police had filed six cases regarding Amparai violence in courts.Three of the cases namely the attacks on New Cassim Hotel, Rahumaniya Hotel and New Mahajana Grocery store were taken up on the 13th. Apart from the five persons who had surrendered, Police had arrested six more suspects who were produced in courts. All of them were allegedly involved in the attack on Cassim Hotel. Four of the six were allegedly involved in other cases too. “We objected to bail being given and this time Police did not object too”said Ahamed. So courts granted bail for two of the arrested persons and remanded the other four until March 19th said the lawyer.
Radheef Ahamed further said that they the lawyers had argued that the Police should include all the arrested suspects in all the cases as the entire violence in Amparai was a series of connected incidents perpetrated by a single group. They had also urged that indictments should be filed under the ICCPR act as all the alleged crimes committed were hate crimes. Also the Lawyers had wanted Police to hold identification parades for suspects. Ahamed said that courts had ordered identification parades to be held and re-scheduled the cases for March 19th and March 22nd. I asked him whether there was a huge crowd at the court premises and he replied”Yes there were some people but not so many as on March 2nd”.
Existential Dilemma For Innocent Ampara Muslims
This then is the on going saga of the Amparai town anti-Muslim violence and its aftermath. The events of the past show that attacks have been pre-planned and executed by a group of youths hailing from the area who call themselves “Diga Kalliya” . The alleged reason for the attack is “Wanda Pethi” which has now been conclusively proved as being utterly false. Yet there is much support for the youths involved in violence amog sections of the political class, Buddhist clergy and Police circles in Ampara. The Muslim victims of the violence are being pressured both tactfully and brazenly to refrain from seeking justice and not to encourage prosecution of the alleged perpetrators. They are being told indirectly that if they want to continue living peacefully in Amparai the persons involved in violence should not be penalised. This poses a very difficult existential dilemma for the innocent Muslim residents of Amparai town. They want the volent elements arrested and prosecuted in the interests of justice but thy are being told the offenders should not be penalised if they )the Muslims)want to continue living peacefully in town. The evil of impunity rides again in a new form here.If this state of enforced “impunity” is to be overcome and justice is to be imparted fairly and freely a strong political will is necessary at multiple levels. Past experience demonstrates that such political will has always been a mirage in times such as these. Cry the beloved country!
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an updated version of an article written for the “Spotlight” Column appearing in the “Daily Financial Times ” of March 17, , 2018. It can be accessed here: