By Chathuri Dissanayake
Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Secretary General Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero has been granted a presidential pardon, highly placed sources confirmed.
The hardline Buddhist group has called on its supporters to gather near Welikada Prison, where Gnanasara Thero was serving his jail term, at 3 p.m. today to welcome the monk, expected to be released today.
BBS Chief Executive Officer Dilantha Withanage claimed that he has received “verbal confirmation from the President’s Office” on the pardon granted to Gnanasara Thero.
Officials in the Prison Department told Daily FT that the process of granting Gnanasara Thero the pardon was in the works, but that they were yet to receive the final paperwork. However, officials in the President’s Office confirmed that the pardon has been signed.
The firebrand monk, known for his hardline views, was serving a six-year jail term for Contempt of Court. The monk, who has been accused of inciting violence against the Muslim community in the country, was also convicted and given a six-month jail term over intimidating Sandya Ekneligoda, the wife of missing journalist Pradeep Ekneligoda.
The pardon comes just a week after anti-Muslim violence erupted in many parts of the country, resulting in serious damage to Muslim-owned homes and commercial establishments. One person was killed during the violence, which lasted two days before it was brought under control.
It was earlier reported that President Maithripala Sirisena, who visited the Welikada Prison last week to pardon 762 prisoners on Vesak Day, held discussions with the monk, who was warded in the Prison Hospital, for over 45 minutes.
“Pardoning Ven. Gnanasara is a slap on the independence of judiciary: he was convicted of interfering with court & contempt of court. No civilised nation will lightly pardon such a convict. After 19th Amendment, Presidential power to pardon is subject to judicial review!” tweeted constitutional lawyer J. C. Weliamuna.
Calling the decision by Sirisena a “big blow” to Sri Lanka’s rule of law, International Crisis Group Sri Lanka Project Director Alan Keenan said that the move will send the wrong signals after the Easter Sunday attacks. “A big blow to #SriLanka’s already battered rule of law, sending precisely the wrong message after Easter attacks. A peaceful Lanka requires all communities to feel safe & equal. Pardoning #Gnanasara says impunity rules & Muslims, Evangelical Christians & Tamils are fair game,” he tweeted.
Politicians and Muslim leaders on various occasions have accused Gnanasara Thero of inciting violence against Muslims, linking him to the Aluthgama anti-Muslim violence in 2014.