Jailed hardline Buddhist monk granted pardon in Sri Lanka

Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) secretary-general Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero. (FIle photo)
Updated 24 May 2019

Jailed hardline Buddhist monk granted pardon in Sri Lanka

  • Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero was serving a six-year jail term for contempt of court
  • The pardon comes just a week after anti-Muslim violence erupted in many parts of the country

COLOMBO: Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) secretary-general Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero was released from prison in Colombo on a presidential pardon on Thursday.

The firebrand monk, notorious 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 hardline Buddhist group had called on its supporters to gather outside Welikada Prison, where Gnanasara Thero was serving his jail term.

While a massive crowd was waiting at the prison’s main gate to welcome the monk, the yellow-robed priest was let out of the backdoor for security reasons.

BBS chief executive officer Dilantha Withanage told Arab News that all Sri Lankans are happy that the BBS leader has been released and the society is grateful to President Maithripala Sirisena for granting him a pardon.

“We feel that justice was received even at this juncture,” Withanage said.

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, mosques and commercial establishments. One person was killed during the violence, which lasted two days before it was brought under control.

President Sirisena, who visited the Welikada Prison last week to pardon 762 prisoners on Vesak Day, held discussions with the monk for more than 45 minutes.

Islamic Solidarity Front Chairman Reyaaz Salih told Arab News that forgiveness is an important aspect of Islam.

“He has been pardoned by the president of the country and we all hope that his presence will help the nation to have a peaceful co-existence with all communities,” he said, adding that Thero will be able to bridge the gap between the Muslims and the Sinhalese communities, opened up by the anti-Muslim violence, by virtue of his effective communication skills.

Western Province Gov. Azath Salley, who visited the jail on Wednesday, said that he would continue to work for better communal understanding with the monk.

However, in his twitter account leading constitutional lawyer J. C. Weliamuna said: “Pardoning Ven. Gnanasara is a slap on the independence of judiciary: He was convicted of interfering with court and of contempt of court. No civilized nation will lightly pardon such a convict."

International Crisis Group Sri Lanka Project Director Alan Keenan tweeted saying that that the move will send out the wrong signals following 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 and equal.”

A majority of the Muslim community felt Gnanasara Thero responsible for inciting violence against Muslims, linking him to the Aluthgama anti-Muslim violence in 2014.


National Guard summoned to aid US cities amid violence after George Floyd’s death

Updated 1 min 5 sec ago

National Guard summoned to aid US cities amid violence after George Floyd’s death

  • 500 Guard soldiers were mobilized in Minneapolis and surrounding cities, where Floyd died
ATLANTA: Georgia’s governor declared a state of emergency early Saturday to activate the state National Guard as violence flared in Atlanta and in dozens of cities nationwide following the death in Minnesota of George Floyd after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck while taking him into custody.
Another 500 Guard soldiers were mobilized in Minneapolis and surrounding cities, where Floyd died and an officer faced charges Friday in his death.
The Guard was also on standby in the District of Columbia, where a crowd grew outside the White House and chanted curses at President Donald Trump. Some protesters tried to push through barriers set up by the US Secret Service along Pennsylvania Avenue, and threw bottles and other objects at officers wearing riot gear, who responded with pepper spray.
A person was killed in downtown Detroit just before midnight after someone in an SUV fired shots into a crowd of protesters near the city’s Greektown entertainment district, police said. In Portland, Oregon, protesters attacked police headquarters Friday night and authorities said they lit a fire inside. In Virginia's capital, a police cruiser was set on fire outside Richmond police headquarters, and a city transit spokeswoman said a bus set ablaze was “a total loss,” news outlets reported.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a pair of tweets that up to 500 members of the Guard would deploy immediately “to protect people & property in Atlanta.”
He said he acted at the request of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who earlier appealed in vain for calm.
In scenes both peaceful and violent across the nation, thousands of protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” and “Say his name. George Floyd.” They hoisted signs reading: “He said I can’t breathe. Justice for George.”
Some demonstrators smashed police cars and spray-painted the iconic logo sign at CNN headquarters. At least three officers were hurt and there were multiple arrests, Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said, as protesters shot at officers with BB guns and threw bricks, bottles and knives.
Atlanta officials reported a fire at Del Frisco’s restaurant in the Buckhead neighborhood, several miles north of the protest site downtown, and officials said crews were unable to reach the fire because of protesters there.
“This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Bottoms implored the protesters to no avail. “You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country.”
Bottoms was flanked by King’s daughter, Bernice King, and rappers T.I. and Killer Mike.
“We have to be better than burning down our own homes. Because if we lose Atlanta what have we got?” said Killer Mike, who cried as he spoke.
In Minneapolis, there were scattered small fires and some stores in a strip mall were broken into near the city’s 5th Precinct.
Video posted to social media showed New York City officers using batons and shoving protesters down as they took people into custody and cleared streets. One video posted to social media showed on officer slam a woman to the ground as he walked past her in the street.
Demonstrators rocked a police van, set it ablaze, then scrawled graffiti across its charred hulk and set it on fire a second time as officers retreated from the area. Blocks away, protesters used a club to batter another police vehicle.
“We have a long night ahead of us in Brooklyn,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. “Our sole focus is deescalating this situation and getting people home safe. There will be a full review of what happened tonight. We don’t ever want to see another night like this.”
The police department said numerous officers were injured, including one who had a tooth knocked out.
Protesters in Houston, where George Floyd grew up, included 19-year-old Jimmy Ohaz, who came from the nearby city of Richmond, Texas.
“My question is how many more, how many more? I just want to live in a future where we all live in harmony and we’re not oppressed.”
Demonstrators on the West Coast blocked highways in Los Angeles and Oakland.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies shot at a fleeing SUV that was shown on video striking protesters before fleeing the scene. San Jose police reported the shooting but said their officers were not involved.
Portland, Oregon, police said at least one shooting was tied to the protest, although details weren’t immediately available. Officers also said that gas was deployed after people threw projectiles at them.
Earlier, thousands of people attended a peaceful evening vigil that lasted three hours. Hundreds then began marching through downtown, with scattered vandalism along the route. Officers declared the event an “unlawful assembly” around 11 p.m., saying they would use force to disperse crowds.
About 1,000 protesters in Oakland, California, smashed windows, sprayed buildings with “Kill Cops” graffiti and were met with chemical spray from police. Oakland Police said several officers were injured by projectiles.
Several demonstrators were detained in Los Angeles and one officer received medical treatment, police said. An LAPD vehicle had its windows smashed, and CNN reported that someone wrote “killer” on a patrol car. At least one city bus was vandalized, and police declared an unlawful assembly throughout downtown.
Protesters repeatedly clashed with police in the Silicon Valley city of San Jose, said Mayor Sam Liccardo, and police responded with flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets. One officer was being treated at a hospital for an injury that was not life-threatening, he and police officials said.
Liccardo said his own officers shared the community’s outrage over Floyd’s in-custody death.
“It was a horrible injustice. I’d venture to guess that every police officer out there feels much of the same anger about what happened in Minneapolis,” he told The Associated Press.