Traffic case that sparked Aluthgama riots ends in acquittal | Sunday Observer

Traffic case that sparked Aluthgama riots ends in acquittal

3 March, 2019
Dharga Town, Aluthgama, June 2014
Dharga Town, Aluthgama, June 2014

The three young men accused of having assaulted a bhikkhu and his driver, leading to a hate-filled Bodu Bala Sena rally on the border of a Muslim majority settlement in Aluthgama, which in turn sparked vicious violence against Muslim-owned shops and businesses were acquitted by court

The traffic incident that sparked vicious religious riots in Dharga Town, Aluthgama in June 2014 reached its judicial conclusion last week. The three young men charged with attacking a bhikkhu and his driver were acquitted on the basis that there were a number of contradictions in the evidence led against them.

On Wednesday (27), the Kalutara Magistrate Chandima Edirimanne cited a judgment by a bench led by former Chief Justice Miliani Sansoni that far too many contradictions in the evidence had resulted in the unreliability of the evidence of the two witnesses as reasons for the acquittal.

The alleged attack on the bhikkhu brought crowds of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) supporters to the southern coastal town for a massive rally. At the meeting, the BBS General Secretary Ven. Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thera - now serving a jail term for contempt of court - made his infamous aba saranai speech against Muslims living nearby, setting off a spiral of violence that consumed the region for two days.

Shops, homes and businesses, many of them owned by Muslim residents of Dharga Town, lay in cinders on June 14, marking the worst communal clashes Sri Lanka had seen since the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983.

The BBS was incensed by a purported attack on June 12, 2014 on the Ven. Ayagama Samitha Thera, Chief Prelate of the Kurunduwatte Sri Wijerama Vihara, Dharga Town and his driver Vishwa at Aluthgama when on their way to attend a sermon their vehicle was obstructed by another that was parked on the road. This event soon escalated into an argument between the accused and the Thera’s driver.

On Wednesday, February 27 (five years after the incident), the Kalutara Magistrate arrived at his decision, after hearing the evidence led by the Thera and his driver.

President’s Counsel M. M. Zuhair, who appeared on behalf of the accused Moulavi Ashgar, and his two brothers Arshad and Aflal, in his submission to court said, “No purpose will be served by proceeding with the case any further in view of the number of contradictions and the unreliability of the evidence”.

They were charged with causing hurt by attacking.

President’s Counsel M.M. Zuhair told the Sunday Observer that they had already conceded that there was an obstruction to the bhikkhu’s path.

“After the principal witnesses, Ayagama Samitha Thera and his driver gave evidence, but there were far too many contradictions and their versions were totally unreliable. Our defence was that we didn’t deny the fact that there had been an obstruction to the traffic. A three-wheeler was parked on that narrow road.

We don’t know to whom that belonged. On the other side a bike was parked obstructing the road which the Thera was using hence we conceded that there was an obstruction. When a horn was tooted for the third time, a person who had been on the bike had moved it and according to the statements provided to the police the Thera had been able to proceed. After the Thera had travelled about 100 metres, the accused had approached the vehicle and an argument has ensued. There had been no incident of assault on the bhikkhu,” PC Zuhair said.

It was a miscommunication that had taken place that developed into an argument. Messages had been posted on social media stating that a bhikkhu had been assaulted. Of course by this time the matter had been settled and the parties had proceeded in their separate directions.

It did not take long for this personal argument to cultivate into a national issue that resulted in declaring a curfew in the areas affected – in the Kalutara District.

PC Zuhair said that this event was settled between the parties in a few minutes but it developed into a racial event.

During the Aluthgama violence, that claimed three lives and left hundreds of millions worth property destroyed, 1,200 police officers including 400 STF personnel were deployed in the area to maintain peace. More than 70 people were injured in the clashes that lasted two days.