BY Pamodi Waravita
A number of civil society groups and Opposition parties have condemned President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s appointment of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera as the Chairman of the new Presidential Task Force (PTF) for “One Country, One Law”.
“The appointment of Gnanasara Thera to this PTF ridicules the mandate of the PTF itself. The country has not forgotten Gnanasara Thera’s actions in the past few years. The consequences of his actions and words in targeting the minority Muslim population are evident. He is also a person who was once in jail on charges of contempt of court,” the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) said in a statement released yesterday (28).
Similarly, SJB Parliamentarian Harin Fernando Tweeted on Wednesday (27): “It is very clear what President Rajapaksa’s agenda is after he failed to deliver on all aspects. The ‘One Country, One Law’ PTF is headed by someone who is blamed by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) which probed the Easter Sunday attacks of 21 April 2019, and whom the said Commission has also called to be prosecuted.”
The final report of the said PCoI has recommended that criminal charges be filed against Ven. Gnanasara Thera. The recommendation for these charges against the monk pertain to allegations of him having played a role in inciting racial tensions in Aluthgama and Beruwala in 2014. The mob attack on Muslims that took place in Aluthgama, Beruwala, and Dharga Town between 15 and 17 June 2014 resulted in at least four deaths, about 80 injuries, and damage to property.
Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam noted the irony of appointing somebody who has violated the Constitution multiple times as the person in charge of making recommendations about the concept of “One Country, One Law” to the President.
“It is very worrying since the final paragraph of the extraordinary gazette establishing the PTF states: ‘I direct all public officers and other persons to whom the said PTF may issue instructions or from whom assistance for the provision of services may be requested, to comply with all such instructions, render all such assistance, and furnish all such information as may be properly complied with, rendered, and furnished on that behalf’. Therefore, the President has vested his Executive powers to a PTF which is headed by a person who is known to have violated the Constitution and has been known to spread hatred and violence towards minorities,” said Rasamanickam, in a video statement on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG), in a statement issued yesterday, said that it is deeply concerned to note that the new PTF is headed by a “divisive character known for inciting hate and violence against minority communities”.
“The composition and purpose of this Task Force undermines existing law-making frameworks, trust between communities, and our hope for principled law reforms, especially to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA). We strongly believe that the ‘One Law’ is the Constitution which provides a guarantee of equality, non-discrimination, and justice. Article 12 of the Constitution embodies a recognition of our diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious makeup, under which the plurality of laws is crucial to foster belongingness and the recognition of all citizens, including minority communities,” said the MPLRAG.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has called on the Government to immediately revoke the extraordinary gazette notification that was issued to establish the aforementioned PTF, adding that providing any space for a figure such as Gnanasara Thera is a clear indicator of a divisive public policy agenda.
“We further note that the phrase ‘One Country, One Law’ – widely deployed in the run up to and during the 2019 Presidential Election – has a very specific majoritarian connotation, and is by no means an expression of a desire for equality or equal protection under the law. Gnanasara Thera is an unapologetic champion of ethno nationalist rhetoric and hate speech against the Muslim community in particular, with no known action taken to independently investigate or hold him to account.”
An extraordinary gazette has been issued to appoint a 13-member PTF to study the implementation of the concept “One Country, One Law” and prepare a draft Act. In addition to Ven. Gnanasara Thera, the PTF consists of Prof. Dayananda Banda, Prof. Shanti Nandana Wijesinghe, Prof. Sumedha Siriwardena, N.G. Sujeewa Panditharathna, Iresh Seneviratne, Sanjaya Marambe, Eranda Navaratna, Pani Wewala, Moulavi Mohamed of the Galle Ulama Council, Mohamed Inthikab, Kaleel Rahman, and Azeez Nizardeen.
In August 2018, Gnanasara Thera was sentenced to prison for six years after being found guilty of contempt of court over his conduct during a court hearing regarding the case of missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda. However, he only served a few months of this sentence as he was granted a presidential pardon in May 2019 by then President and incumbent Parliamentarian Maithripala Sirisena.