2019 Easter attacks in Sri Lanka: Disappointment of Catholics after the acquittal of two officials

Sri Lanka's High Court on Friday acquitted two senior officials charged with "crimes against humanity" for failing to thwart the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that left 279 people dead. A decision denounced by the Sri Lankan cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who believes that "the government has not kept any of its promises" to bring justice to the victims. 

A Sri Lankan court on Friday acquitted two former government officials on trial in connection with the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. The attacks, blamed on a local radical Islamist group, targeted three churches and three hotels in the capital, killing 279 people. , including 45 foreigners, and more than 500 wounded.

The three-judge panel dismissed 855 charges against Hemasiri Fernando, then Secretary of the Ministry of Defense and Pujith Jayasundara, then Inspector General of Police. According to a court official, the judges unanimously exonerated the suspects and released them without calling any defense witnesses.

Senior officials accused of “negligence”

The state had charged the two men last November for failing to respond to early warnings from an Indian intelligence agency that local jihadists were plotting a series of suicide bombings in April 2019.

The two officials were arrested in 2019 and held for four months before being released on bail.

The then chief prosecutor, Dappula de Livera, told the court that the "negligence" of the two senior officials amounted to "serious crimes against humanity" by charging them with murder.

A lower court had earlier refused to charge them with murder, as prosecutors could not establish a connection to the bombers or any motive.

The first alert from Indian intelligence services was issued on April 4, nearly three weeks before the attacks. The Islamic State group had claimed to be behind the perpetrators of the attacks.

Local Muslim groups had also alerted police and intelligence services to the threat posed by radical cleric Zahran Hashim, who led the suicide bombings.

According to Messrs. Jayasundara and Fernando heard in a parliamentary inquiry that then-president Maithripala Sirisena failed to follow established protocols for assessing national security threats before the attacks.

They had also claimed that Mr Sirisena, who also served as Minister of Defense and Public Order, had not taken the threats seriously.

The Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is pushing for action against Mr Sirisena, a key ally of his successor, Gotabaya Rajapaks who came to power in November 2019 pledging to end extremist attacks on the country. Isle.

'The government has not kept any of its promises to bring us justice for the Easter attack'

AsiaNews reports the words of the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who spoke in a video message following this decision. He feels that justice has not been done. “We are deeply saddened by this,” he said.

“The government has not kept any of its promises to bring us justice for the Easter attack,” he added. He believes that therefore, they will not be able to obtain "truth and justice from this government" and will have to wait for the establishment of "another government".

The cardinal then claimed that “intelligence services and senior government officials knew the attack would take place.” “We have proof of this,” he insisted.

Reverend Asiri P Perera, a retired Methodist Bishop in Sri Lanka, also denounces the court's verdict.

The prelate believes that in this case certain “names” and certain “evidence have been swept under the carpet”. He adds that “the audacious negligence of those who were responsible for investigating is visible to the public”. “Faced with such shortcomings, where can we now turn to seek justice? he asks himself.

Camille Westphal Perrier (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock / Ruwan Walpola

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