When the courts ordered the Bodu Bala Sena monk to pay her Rs. 50,000 compensation after being found guilty of criminal intimidation, Sandhya Eknaligoda received the money in coins and 10 and 20 rupee notes, all piled into polythene bags.
Supporters of the monk, who were being driven around in a brand new red Nissan X trail SUV before his jail term, told the courts, when questioned about this curious method of payment, that the money had been collected from temple tills.
For Sandhya, it was further proof of how determined the monk and his followers were to harass her.
In August 2018, the Court of Appeal found the General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Galagodaaththe Gnansara Thera guilty on four counts of contempt of court and criminal intimidation, relating to his conduct in the Homagama Magistrate’s Court on January 2016.
The controversial monk who has been accused of inciting violence against minority communities, was sentenced to 19 years rigorous imprisonment to be served concurrently over a six year period.
The 56 pages long judgement given by the then President of the Court of Appeal Preeti Padman Surasena extensively elaborated that the accusations against the monk was proven beyond reasonable doubt after considering evidence of the Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake and the Senior State Counsel Dileepa Peeris and other lawyers.
With his pardon last week, Sandhya Eknaligoda is feeling like she is back to square one. The pardon of the monk, was tantamount to the State giving him a licence to harm her and her children, said the determined ‘disappearance activist’, in a letter to Prime Minister Rani Wickremesinghe.
“Even while he was imprisoned his supporters and followers used to harass me when I went to court. Even during the last two days the abusing on social media has escalated,” she explained in an interview with the Sunday Observer.
In the wake of his pardon and release from prison, Eknaligoda will now write to the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses, expressing fears for her safety. According to the sections of the Victim and Witness Protection Act, victims of crime have to be notified in advance of their aggressors being granted pardons and being released from prison. Sandhya Eknaligoda received no such prior warning.
As a time- immemorial tradition, Presidents pardon and releases prisoners at two main occasions, annually; once, on Independence Day and the other such occasion is on Vesak day. This, considered to be a prerogative of the president, therefore has no formal guidelines.
The previous occasion where S.B. Dissanayake was granted a pardon, is distinct from the current circumstances, according to legal experts. According to legal experts the distinction is clear, because the former was a criticism of a judgment for which Dissanayake later apologized to court.
“In the case of Gnanasara Thera there was absolutely no remorse shown on his part. and he was convicted after a trial was completed in full form, after taking cognizance of the evidence given by witnesses,” a legal expert said. Furthermore his appeal against the sentence was also dismissed by the Supreme Court, the senior lawyer told the Sunday Observer.
However legal experts have indicated that after the introduction of the 19th Amendment the power to pardon is subject to Judicial review.
Last Friday, President of the Methodist Church which was recently subject to mob attacks, Rev Asiri Perera said the decision to pardon the monk was extremely disappointing. Rev. Perera said the decision had ignored all the threats Gnanasara thero has been breathing out against minority religions and races of this country,” the head of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka noted.
“The release makes us feel very insecure,”. The Tamil National Alliance also strongly opposed the pardon for the monk, saying that the Government needs to scrupulously deal with hate-mongers, whichever ethnic or religious groups they belonged to.
Expressing its deep shock and concern over the controversial monk’s release, the Centre for Policy Alternatives said the trial, conviction and sentencing of Gnanasara Thera raised no legitimate questions of miscarriage of justice. CPA stated that this raises several serious concerns, such as, it legitimizes the view that even after being punished through a legitimate judicial process for contempt, one can enjoy impunity afterwards through pardon, and further, that certain categories of persons, such as Buddhist clergy can enjoy preferential treatment.
“Gnanasara Thero has played a documented role in the past as Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena in expressing hate speech and inciting violence towards minority communities, particularly Muslim Sri Lankans. The pardon, however indirectly, represents a worrying endorsement of such anti-minority sentiment, and can only heighten the anxiety and fear being felt by Muslim Sri Lankans today,” CPA statement read.
One day after his release, Gnanasara Thero addressed a press conference, giving the police an ultimatum of a week to arrest the head of the All Ceylon Thawheeth Jamaath, Abdul Razeek. “The police should arrest this man or we will do it for them,” he threatened during the briefing held at the BBS Headquarters in Rajagiriya.
The ultimatum comes only 24 hours after the monk said he was “very tired” and that following his release, he would be “retiring into the Bhikku life dedicated to the sasana”. The renewed vigour gives his victims (like Mrs Eknaligoda), grave cause for concern.
Mrs Sandya Eknaligoda who campaigned hard against the Rajapaksa regime in 2014 and lent her voice and efforts to the movement that backed the common candidacy in the election that year, called the release of the monk the “biggest let-down”.