Jayalath Jayawardena writes to Pope Benedict about Mannar Bishop

Senior UNP parliamentarian, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena has appealed to His Holiness Pope Benedict the XVI to use his good offices to dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that the Bishop of Mannar continues his mission without threats, intimidations and false allegations.

In a letter to the Pope, the MP says: “Since the beginning of 2012, adverse comments about the Bishop by some chauvinistic and communal minded Government Ministers, and media owned, controlled and sympathetic to the Government have intensified. Meaningless accusations were made that the Bishop aspires to be the Cardinal of “Tamil Eelam”, that he is involved in a conspiracy against the government supported by the INGOs and that he is disturbing Muslim – Tamil harmony.

Government Ministers claimed that he should be arrested and prosecuted over a letter he wrote to the President and members of the UN Human Rights Council (together with 30 other Tamil Catholic Clergy from the North, later endorsed by 63 more including a retired Sinhalese Anglican Bishop, Catholic and other Christian Clergy and lay people, men and women, non-Christians and both Tamils and Sinhalese)”.

“More than 16 months after a detailed submission to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (LLRC), he was questioned by government intelligence officers last month. The Bishop was also part of a group of Tamil civil society members who engaged with the Tamil National Alliance (the major political party representing the Tamils of the North and East) on issues that they considered being critical to Tamil people.

“Through above and various other public and private interventions, the Bishop had called for recognition of the Tamil nationhood and political solution to the ethnic conflict, a process of truth telling about abuses that had happened in the last stages of the war and throughout the conflict, return of land forcibly and illegally occupied by the military to people, support for the return of Northern Muslims evicted from the North in 1990 by the LTTE on a level equal to support extended to Tamils, concerns about those extrajudicial executed, disappeared and seriously injured during the war, those detained for long periods and several post war concerns such as militarization and cultural domination of Tamil areas.

“The Bishop had also condemned attacks on journalists and human rights defenders in the south including the killing of a Sinhalese fishermen during a protest against fuel price hikes. His submission to the LLRC included a question about the fate of 146,679 people that appear to be unaccounted for in the Vanni in the last 8 months of the war, based on Government statistics and relevant documentary evidence from Government sources was submitted to the LLRC along with the submission.

“The Bishop had never called for a separate country or renewed armed struggle and has rejected both these as not being viable options to be considered in the struggle for dignity and justice of Tamil people and broader reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

“He had also been cooperating and engaging with national and local level government officials, including the President, Ministers, The Secretary to the Ministry of Defense, Government Agent of Mannar, Military officials and Police. He readily agreed to the request for questioning by the government intelligence officers and was instrumental in taking the initiative to invite the LLRC to conduct hearings in Mannar. He had also cooperated and engaged with the international community, especially inter-governmental bodies, experts and staff of the United Nations, of which Sri Lanka is a member.

“Threats and intimidation of the Bishop has also brought about more fear into the minds of many other religious leaders and civil activists in the Mannar District and the North, who had long regarded the Bishop as one of the most prominent spokespersons on matters of social justice, human rights, peace and reconciliation”.