A trio under scrutiny following anti-Muslim attacks | Sunday Observer

A trio under scrutiny following anti-Muslim attacks

Ransacked Muslim business places
Ransacked Muslim business places (Pic: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi AFP)

Three weeks after the April 26 attacks mobs rampaged through the towns of Minuwangoda and Kuliyapitiya attacking Muslim owned houses and businesses. The violence eventually left one person dead. Despite the Easter Sunday attacks the country had till then been relatively calm except for some isolated incidents casting a shadow of doubt on the possibility of sudden occurrences of mob violence in the areas. Following the attacks, the Police swiftly moved to arrest a few names familiar and often linked to the Sinhalese far right.

The first to be arrested on May 13 was Amith Weerasinghe, leader of the infamous ‘Mahason Balakaya’, who continues to be one of the main suspects of mobs that terrorised Digana in March last year. In 2018 too, violence had left one man dead, houses and businesses of Muslims destroyed.

Similar to the violence that erupted in Minuwangoda and Kuliyapitiya at the time Police believed mobs were brought in to Digana by an organized group most probably led by Weerasinghe who had actively promoted anti-Muslim propaganda in Kandy. Videos circulated showing him distributing leaflets against Muslim businesses in Digana and mobilising others during the time while making speeches that can be construed as hate speech.

His antics in Digana left him remanded at the Anuradhapura prison for nearly eight months only to be released on bail during the October 26 ‘political coup’ faced by the country last year. Just days into the political upheaval, on November 1 Weerasinghe was out and about again on a cash bail of Rs. 25 000 and two sureties of Rs. 500 000 each. Interestingly, Weerasinghe had till then never been charged.

Continuing with his racial rhetoric even after being released, on May 11 Weerasinghe had attempted to hold a protest march against ‘Islamic terrorism’ only for the Police to obtain an order against it from the Courts. Weerasinghe appeared to be familiar with the Policemen informing him of the order telling them “I’m asking the leaders of this country if in future a ten thousand Amith Weerasinghe’s are created can you issue ten thousand banning orders? If fifty thousand, sixty thousand monks of this country get on to the road, what will you do?”. Forty eight hours later mobs with a similar ideology to that of Weerasinghe’s, ransacked places and attacked the Muslims of Minuwangoda and Kuliyapitiya.

But unlike in Digana, when tensions flared in Minuwangoda and Kuliyapitiya this year Weerasinghe was back at his home in Digana far from the violence being perpetrated. In fact according to his wife Jayangani Kumari since a week before the attack, Amith had mostly stayed at home. “He did not go anywhere and has no part in the recent attacks,” she said adding that her husband is being held on trumped up charges by the Police. According to Police sources, however, the suspicion is that Weerasinghe despite being home had mobilized groups through messaging applications though a temporary ban on social media and similar applications were in place during the time. But it is a charge that Jayangani denies.

Nevertheless, she is quick to defend his ideology. “What my husband warned the authorities and public about, has come true with the recent attacks,” she said ,while adding that however, he did not instigate the violence in Digana nor the recent riots.

According to Jayangani since his release, the couple along with their two children have been ‘trying to return to a normal life’. “They hauled my husband away around 4.30am on May 13,” she said adding that they were initially told to come to the Kandy Police only to find that Weerasinghe had never been brought there. Having been directed to the Kirulapone Police she arrives there to be told her husband was not there. “Then they told me where he is and that he was arrested by a special team,” she said. Accusing the Police of harassment, Jayangani says not only did they mislead her as to where Weerasinghe was, but their house is also now being heavily guarded, their lane barricaded. “No one can come or leave without giving their details to the Police, there are about 50 of them here,” she said. According to her, the situation has put a massive strain on her and the children. “My husband did not do anything, in fact, he was correct, but they have now taken him away” she lamented.

Also to be arrested along with Weerasinghe was the Director of the self-styled Anti-Corruption Force, Namal Kumara of the “VIP assassination accusations” fame and Suresh Priyasad alias Dan Priyasad of the ‘Nawa Sinhale’ organization. Both known for their Sinhala far-right ideologies Namal Kumara was in fact in the area traveling around in a Defender vehicle when tensions flared.

He claims he was there on ‘other business’. The trio have continuously been linked. But Jayangani says Weerasinghe and Namal had fallen out long ago. “He is the one who betrayed my husband in 2018 and we have nothing to do with him,” she said adding that as for Dan, he lives in Colombo and her husband has little contact with him. “They talk, but they are not close associates” Jayangani claimed.

While the puppet- masters of the Minuwangoda and Kuliyapitiya attacks have yet to be revealed Dan Priyasad is now out on bail. Namal Kumara continues to be questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department while Weerasinghe will appear before a court to face charges on May 28.