Australians stop right-wing goverment’s refugee family deportation

Sri Lankan refugee family thanking supporters in Biloela, Australia (Credit: @HometoBilo)

By Oscar Grenfell in Australia:

Australian government seeks to deport Tamil refugee family to Sri Lanka

30 August 2019

In a major attack on democratic rights, Border Force agents, acting under instruction from the federal Coalition government, bundled a family of Tamil refugees onto a plane late last night to dispatch them to Sri Lanka.

The police-state style operation was only halted in the early hours of the morning after lawyers for the family secured a last-minute federal court injunction, temporarily blocking their deportation. A hearing of the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne today granted a further injunction until 4.00 p.m. next Wednesday. The order, however, reportedly only covers the youngest of the two children, meaning that the threat of the family’s imminent return to Sri Lanka, where they face state persecution, remains.

Lawyers for the family, and their supporters, outlined the brutal actions of immigration authorities in comments to the media.

On Thursday, the husband and wife, Nadesalingam and Priya, were reportedly given two “Notices of Intention to Remove from Australia” for themselves and their daughters, Kopika, who is just four-years-old, and Tharunicaa, who is only two.

In the evening, Border Force agents at the Melbourne detention centre where the family has been held since March 2018 forced them into a van that took them to Tullamarine Airport. The family was then bundled onto a non-commercial flight bound for Sri Lanka.

Priya’s arm was injured when she was forced onto the plane. She was then separated on the flight from her two infant children. They were only taken off the plane when it landed in Darwin to refuel after the injunction was secured last night.

The government’s attack on the family has provoked broad opposition. The attempted deportation was doubtless timed late at night, to prevent protests and other actions.

Despite this, some 50 supporters of the family gathered at the airport within hours of the news that they had been taken from the Melbourne detention centre. Australian Federal Police arrested two women, after they allegedly breached an airport perimeter fence in a desperate bid to block the flight.

This morning, four of the top five Australian hashtags on Twitter were in defence of the family. They included demands that they be allowed to remain in Australia and condemnations of the government.

The hashtag #hometobilo, calling for the family to be returned to the Queensland country town of Biloela, where they were snatched by immigration authorities last year, was the most popular in Australia throughout the morning.

Angela Fredericks, a Biloela resident and campaigner for the family’s freedom, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National this morning: “People in Biloela are in absolute disbelief at the cruelty that occurred last night. The messages I’m getting is people’s disgust at what Australia as a country is doing.”

The government has responded to the outrage by doubling-down on its plans to force the family to Sri Lanka. Speaking on Channel Nine’s “Today” program this morning, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton callously declared: “I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country.”

The government line is a continuation of its 18-month persecution of the family. On March 5, 2018, at around 5.00 a.m., Border Force officers, police and private Serco guards raided the family’s Biloela home. They dragged the infant children out of bed and gave their parents just 10 minutes to pack before they were taken to an airport and flown to a detention centre in Melbourne, over 1,600 kilometres away.

Residents of the town immediately began a campaign in defence of the family, launching petitions, holding demonstrations and winning mass public support. They noted that Nadesalingam and Priya were highly-respected members of the community, where they had lived and worked for years. The petition they initiated has been signed by more than 200,000 people.

The response was a damning refutation of the claims, incessantly peddled by the political establishment and sections of media, that the bipartisan assault on refugees is supported by workers in rural Australia. The sentiments in Biloela are mirrored in numerous country towns and regional centres, where Australian citizens and immigrants work side by side and confront escalating assaults on their jobs and social conditions.

Despite the widespread support for the family, they have been denied the most basic rights to health care. Last month, four of Tharunicaa’s teeth were surgically removed, and another four were treated, because they had become rotten.

Her mother Priya had complained for months that the two-year-old child was in pain and had been unable to eat solid foods due to her untreated dental conditions. Because of the neglect by the authorities, the baby will spend the next five years without any front teeth, until her adult set begins to grow.

At the same time, a succession of courts refused to uphold the family’s refugee status, claiming that it would be safe for them to return to Sri Lanka.

These assertions are transparently false. Nadesalingam and Priya fled Sri Lanka and came separately to Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013. They sought refuge in the wake of the Sri Lankan government’s almost three-decade communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The war concluded in 2009 with the mass murder of Tamil civilians and the imposition of military-rule in the country’s north. Tamil workers and youth continue to be threatened and imprisoned by the police and the security services.

In April the Sri Lankan government imposed a state of emergency that abrogated basic democratic rights following Islamist terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday. These police-state measures are continuing. Amid mounting social tensions, the Colombo political establishment is feverishly seeking to whip-up communal antagonisms.

Other Tamil asylum-seekers who have been returned by Australia to Sri Lanka have faced detention and state persecution, forcing many into hiding. Given the prominence of their case, moreover, Nadesalingam and Priya will inevitably be targeted if they are returned to Sri Lanka. There is every likelihood that the government will make an example of them to intimidate others who are considering applying for asylum. …

What is required is the development of a movement of the entire working class against the reactionary framework of “border protection”, which is used to divide workers along national lines and divert attention from the cause of the deepening social crisis: the capitalist system.

In a deliberately punitive move, immigration authorities transported the family from Darwin, where the flight bound for Sri Lanka had landed, to the offshore Christmas Island detention centre in the Indian Ocean, north of the Australian mainland. The facility was re-opened by the Coalition government earlier this year although there are no other refugees detained there: here.

Australia: Stop the deportation of the Biloela refugee family! Here.

Sri Lankan Saudi, Trump-style ‘war on drugs’

Demonstration against death penalty in Sri Lankan capital Colombo, EPA photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Sri Lanka is going to carry out the death penalty again and employs two executioners

Sri Lanka has appointed two official executioners to carry out the first executions since 43 years. Last February, President Sirisena announced that four convicted drug criminals would be put to death by hanging.

The verdict must be executed by specially trained executioners, but the last one left five years ago without ever executing anyone.

More than 100 candidates responded to the vacancy, in which they asked for people with ‘a strong moral character’. Two US Americans and two women also applied for the position, although foreigners and women were excluded from the procedure in advance.

The two men hired are now in the final phase of their education and must be ready in two weeks. …

By a government measure in 1977, the death penalty was automatically converted to life imprisonment.

Amnesty International says it is “shocked and indignant” and argues that executions for drug-related offenses are illegal.

US official delivers Trump’s threatening message to Sri Lankan president: here.

Internet censorship in Sri Lanka

This 25 April 2019 video says about itself:

Sri Lanka‘s government is maintaining a ban on most social media. It says it is necessary to stop the spread of misinformation and the incitement of violence in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings.

The ban raises questions as to whether it is censorship or a government fulfilling its duty of care to its citizens.

Al Jazeera’s Mereana Hond reports.

By Naveen Dewage in Sri Lanka:

Sri Lankan government moves to criminalise “fake news

19 June 2019

The Sri Lankan cabinet recently approved two proposals to amend the country’s Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code in order to criminalise “false news” and
hatred statements”.

Tabled by the acting Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms Ranjith Maddumabandara, one of the proposals calls for fines of up to 1 million rupees ($US5,715) or a five-year prison sentence, or both, for anyone found guilty of “false news distribution.” The other change would impose as yet unspecified fines or imprisonment for “hatred statements”.

Maddumabandara presented the planned measures following requests from parliament’s Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security, which includes MPs from all political parties in the ruling coalition and the official opposition.

The request underscores the unanimity and determination of all factions of Sri Lanka’s political establishment to censor the internet and social media as well as print and broadcasting outlets.

The terms “false news” and “hatred statements”, which are not defined in the proposed measures, will be used to persecute all perceived political opponents, including, in particular, socialists, workers and youth challenging the government and the state apparatus.

Attempting to justify the laws, the government information department declared: “Law and order authorities as well as civil society leaders have been increasingly concerned about the rising social tensions and worsening ‘hate speech’ messaging both on the internet as well as in public statements by various groups in recent weeks following the shock suicide bombing attacks on Easter Sunday, April 21st.”

The so-called civil leaders and law-and-order authorities raising these concerns are none other than President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, parliamentary opposition leaders and the military and police top brass.

Sirisena responded to last April’s Easter Sunday terrorist attacks by reactivating the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which grants wide-ranging powers to the police and the military, and by extending the draconian measures for a second month.

A total ban on social media was lifted only after users were warned “to act in a responsible manner.” Two weeks after the terror attacks the ban was re-imposed for two days when government and opposition-instigated racist thugs went on a rampage against Muslims. One person was killed, many others were injured, and widespread destruction of property took place. Police and security forces turned a blind eye to the attacks.

A year ago, in March 2018, Sirisena totally banned social media for about two weeks when Sinhala-Buddhist racist groups launched violent anti-Muslim attacks at Digana in the central hills district.

The “concerns” of Sirisena, Wickremesinghe and the parliamentary opposition about “false news” and “hatred statements” are as fraudulent as their claims that emergency laws and mass deployment of the military are needed to stop terrorist attacks. Key government and opposition leaders as well as the defence hierarchy were warned in advance of the Easter Sunday bombing attacks and have exploited the tragic death of hundreds of innocent people to introduce police-state measures.

Sri Lanka’s criminalisation of so-called false news and hate speech is a direct attack on freedom of expression and part of a broad-ranging international assault on the internet, social media and investigative journalism.

In the US, the Trump administration is collaborating with the giant Google and Facebook corporations to censor socialist and anti-war content on the internet. Similar restrictions are in place in the UK, Germany, France, India and other countries.

The escalating attacks on investigative journalism and freedom of the press are highlighted by the arrest and jailing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Britain and the Trump administration’s attempt to extradite him to the US on espionage charges.

Early this month Australian Federal Police launched unprecedented raids on the Sydney office of the state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a national network, and the home of a senior journalist for News Corp. The police seized hundreds of digital files in the raids, claiming the journalists had published secret government documents.

Underlying the determination of the ruling classes to censor and control the internet is their fear of the resurgence of working-class struggles internationally and growing interest in socialism. Internet and social media platforms are being widely used by workers and youth to organise their struggles and fight for their social and democratic rights.

Social media usage is widespread in Sri Lanka. According to recent reports, Sri Lanka, which has a population of just 21 million, has active social media usage by 6 million people, or almost a third of the country’s citizens.

As Colombo moves to criminalise “false news”, it is also seeking new methods to intensify its control of the internet.

The Sri Lankan president’s media division has reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping told Sirisena during his recent visit to Beijing that he would send technical experts and equipment to Sri Lanka to help “trace individuals who propagate false information through social media.” Xi’s offer was in response to requests from Sirisena.

China uses high-powered Internet surveillance techniques to clamp down on the growing opposition of workers, students and intelligentsia to the repressive bureaucratic regime.

Colombo systematically blocked websites during its 26-year communal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The war ended in 2009 but the blockades continued. Like its predecessor, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has targetted social media and websites, and maintains its special Internet military intelligence unit established during the war.

Last November, the Telecom Regulatory Commission, which is under the control of President Sirisena, blocked, and demanded the extradition of its editor-in-chief from the UK, after the publication began criticising him.

Shakthika Sathkumara, a writer, has been held in remand since April after being falsely accused of spreading hatred and disrupting communal harmony after he posted a short story in his Facebook account. He has been repeatedly remanded in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Sathkumara was taken into custody following a complaint by extreme-right Buddhist monks who are in the forefront of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment.

Colombo’s planned new measures to censor and control the Internet and social media are clear moves towards the establishment of dictatorial forms of rule. Workers and youth must vehemently oppose this crackdown.

The author also recommends:

Sri Lankan prime minister threatens increased internet and social media censorship
[10 September 2018]

Facebook deletes WSWS post on Sri Lanka
[14 November 2018]

Sri Lankan Muslim victims of violence interviewed

Attacked mosque in Minuwangoda, Sri Lanka

From the World Socialist Web Site in Sri Lanka:

Muslim victims of violence in Sri Lanka speak to the WSWS

By our reporters

17 May 2019

On Wednesday, WSWS reporters visiting Minuwangoda, a bustling town in the Gampaha district of Sri Lanka, discovered a ghost town. The town, with many Muslim-owned shops, is located 50 kilometres from Colombo in the Western Province. It has been devastated by an anti-Muslim rampage by Sinhala racist thugs.

Fully armed Sri Lankan army soldiers and police special task force officers are now “protecting” this town along the Colombo highway, after a rampage carried out with the direct or indirect backing of the police and military. The attack lasted several hours on Monday evening, before and after a curfew imposed by the government.

Military in the burned area in Minunwangoda

Other areas that came under attack included Chilaw, Nikaweratiya, Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola, Bingiriya, Kobeigane and Wariyapola. Kotramulla and Thummodera in the Naththandiya area experienced severe violence. All are located in the north-western province. One 45-year-old Muslim was killed by thugs at Kotramulla. Many were injured.

As WSWS reporters visited Minuwangoda, acting defence minister Ruwan Wijewardena toured the area with Muslim ministers, a day after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also toured the town. Town residents spoke with contempt of their promises of “protection for the people.”

Minuwangoda town is deserted. Apart from police and soldiers, only a few shopkeepers remain. Two cafes named Halal and Faus and over 50 Muslim-owned shops selling clothes, shoes and electronics were totally destroyed, as well as the Sinhala-owned Siripathi Dress Point and Echo shops. Windows and doors at a mosque at the centre of town were broken. The “Diamond Pasta” plant, Sri Lanka’s largest pasta-producing factory employing 500 workers, was also gutted. About 30 persons in the factory during the attack jumped from the windows to save their lives.

Almost all Muslim shops were closed for Ramadan prayers when the attack took place. Goons broke the shops’ locks, looted valuables and finally burnt them down.

The owner of Siripathi Dress Point at his shop

The owner of the Mohideen Shoe Palace told the WSWS, “Most of the attackers came from outside. Goods worth hundreds of thousands of rupees are now burnt to ashes. At Amra Tex, near our shop, denim trousers worth tens of millions were looted before the shop was burned.”

The owner of Jewel Moon lamented, “Most of our business is done in the festive season. Now, a huge amount of money has to be paid to wholesalers from whom we bought the goods.”

All the shop owners asked how they were to repay their bank loans after the destruction.

Muslim shopkeepers and store workers mostly live in Galoluwa, about 1 kilometre from the town. After the attack, security forces surrounded the area and intimidated people. Around the “Eksath Junction” area, 30 Muslim families’ houses were damaged by goons.

A worker said, “Soldiers came in black clothes, covering faces in black. Knocking doors with their guns, they shouted obscenities, saying ‘Thambio’ (Muslims). When we came out of houses they fired at the ground to intimidate us. All children in the village are still nervous.”

Mobs broke the gate to attack the house

Police searched the entire Galoluwa area two weeks ago but found nothing suspicious. The worker added, “Ordinary Muslim people have no connection with any violence. The bomb attacks were carried out by those who have links to ISIS. We thoroughly condemn their attack.”

The rampage followed the April 21 terror bombing of three churches—two in Colombo and one in the outskirts—and three luxury hotels, killing over 250 and injuring 500, bombings allegedly carried out by ISIS and the National Thowheeth Jamma’ath (NTJ) Islamist group.

Sahabdeen, 65, who supports his children and grandchildren by selling cheap snacks, said his house was attacked with stones: “I have two daughters and a son. They are married. One of the married ones has a three-wheeler but does not get enough business. I bear most of the family expenses. Our house does not have even proper electricity. What is expected by attacking us?”

Sahabdeen holding a stone thrown by thugs

Another person said, “The Minuwangoda urban council chairman, government and opposition ministers and MPs traded blame for the attacks. But no one came when we were hit, and shops were burned.”

A group of workers explained their view of the international situation to the WSWS. One said the American imperialists build up terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda and ISIS and use them to manipulate resource-rich Middle East countries like Iraq: “America said that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. These were all lies. Recently, Libya and Syria were destroyed. Millions of people have been turned into refugees. In history, there have been conspiracies to bring pro-American governments to power.”

When another worker asked why the Sri Lankan government invites US intelligence agencies like the CIA and FBI to Sri Lanka to investigate the bombings, the first replied, “This government also works with America.”

Halal Food destroyed

WSWS reporters discussed Washington’s war drive against China and its regime-change operation in 2015 to oust ex-President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime, which it saw as too closely aligned with China. Rajapakse is not an opponent of imperialism, however, and now is reaching out to Washington.

A small businessman said, “We thought security forces were there to preserve peace. But we were hit with guns. Children were terrorized with filthy words. The media does not show these things.”

WSWS reporters explained the Sri Lankan ruling elite’s chauvinist politics. Anti-Tamil discrimination culminated in a 30-year communal war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Now, every capitalist government notoriously sends state forces, police and thugs against the workers and oppressed, using the method of divide and rule to suppress struggles of the workers and oppressed masses.

Still burning shop

After the April 21 bombings, the communal propaganda of the bourgeois political establishment and capitalist media promoted anti-Muslim attacks across Sri Lanka to divide workers along communal lines.

These attacks were well organised with behind-the-scenes support of established political parties. Dayasiri Jayasekera, a prominent MP in Kurunegala district and secretary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, was filmed going to Bingiriya police and securing the release of several arrested persons. He later held a press conference, claiming that he was there only to quell unrest.

Madumadhawa Aravinda, an ally of Rajapakse and leader of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), was also caught on video. He later said he was there on his way to another area.

Namal Kumara, a notorious chauvinist tied to the establishment, and Amith Weerasinghe of the Mahasohon Balakaya militia, implicated in racist violence in Digana last March, were arrested by police. Nearly 100 have been arrested in the past three days. In the past, such people have been promptly released.

Burnt down shops

In a Twitter message on Wednesday, Rajapakse “urged all members of any political party, including that of his, to maintain law and order and not to aggravate the already sensitive situation.” This is effectively an admission of the involvement of ruling class parties.

Like ruling classes in every country facing an upsurge of class struggle, the Sri Lankan ruling elite is rapidly turning to authoritarian forms of rule. President Sirisena, the government and defence establishment ignored advanced warnings of the terrorist attack, which is now being used to impose antidemocratic measures, including a draconian state of emergency, and suppress class struggles and rural unrest.

All the established parties have rubber-stamped these measures, based on their own police-state agenda. The army then takes the upper hand. Workers must oppose anti-Muslim violence and propaganda, the state of emergency, and unite across ethnic lines, build their own action committees and fight for a workers and peasants government on the basis of the struggle for international socialism.

Nine Muslim ministers of the Sri Lankan government resigned on Monday in response to renewed threats by fascistic Buddhist monks, Sinhala racists and other reactionary elements to violently attack the country’s minority Muslim population: here.

‘Sri Lankan secret police linked to anti-Christian terrorism’

A view of St Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Steve Sweeney:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Sri Lankan intelligence operatives may be linked to terror group

SRI LANKAN intelligence operatives may be linked to the Islamist group that is believed to have carried out the deadly bomb blasts on Easter Sunday that killed at least 321 people and injured 500.

In a now deleted article from 2016, the Sri Lanka Mirror newspaper reported that intelligence authorities had uncovered a secret defence ministry account that was established under the regime of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

It claimed that the cash was used to fund a number of Islamist and Buddhist terror groups including Thowheed Jamath, whose splinter group is said to be responsible for Sunday’s attacks.

The article also alleged that “there is clear information to prove that Thowheed Jamath’s secretary Abdul Rasik Rafiquedeen was an army intelligence member.”

He was arrested in 2016 for inciting hatred against Buddhists after a complaint from the Bodu Bala Sena terror group, for which he later apologised.

Both organisations are among those alleged to have been paid from the same defence ministry slush fund.

According to sources an unnamed close ally of former Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is planning to run for president, co-ordinated the Islamist and Buddhist extremist groups.

He allegedly headed up a special security committee during the 2015 presidential elections controlled by Mr Gotabhaya which planned to seize power in a coup that failed to materialise.

Mr Gotabhaya was charged with human rights violations in the United States at the beginning of April when he was served with papers in a Trader Joe’s car park in Pasadena, California.

The joint US-Sri Lankan citizen is accused of atrocities committed between 2005 and 2015 when thousands were disappeared, killed and tortured during a bitter civil war.

Sunday’s bomb attacks, which targeted churches and hotels frequented by Westerners, were claimed by the Islamic State terror group on Tuesday.

More than 40 people have been taken into custody so far, with the country placed under a state of emergency to try and prevent further attacks.

All of those arrested are Sri Lankan nationals and there are fears that some of the bombers may have fled the country.

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena promised tough action against state security services amid accusations that warnings about attacks planned on churches during Easter were ignored.

He said yesterday that changes would be made “in the next 24 hours.”

It is alleged that the information was also not passed on to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with relations between the two said to be strained.

Sri Lankan president steps up military crackdown: here.

The Sri Lankan government has unleashed a crackdown, mainly targeting Muslims, following the horrific April 21 bomb attacks on three Catholic churches and three hotels that killed more than 250 men, women and children, and injured some 500 more: here.

Anti-innocent Muslim violence in Sri Lanka revenge

Negombo in Sri Lanka

Dutch NOS TV reported on 25 April 2019 (translated):

In Sri Lanka, hundreds of Pakistani refugees have fled the city of Negombo to escape revenge actions … Others have taken refuge in their mosque in Negombo …

The Pakistanis are Ahmadi Muslims who have fled to Sri Lanka. … According to Pakistani law, they are not Muslims. …

So anger about the attacks [on Sri Lankan churches] turned against the Ahmadi Muslims. They were attacked with sticks and stones, on the streets but also in their houses.

“We were attacked in Pakistan because we were supposedly not Muslims,” one of them told Associated Press. “Now we are being attacked in Sri Lanka because we are Muslims.”

Ahmadi Muslims are a liberal tendency within Islam. Very different from the Saudi state religion version of Islam. Which probably inspired the terrible anti-Christian bloodbaths in Sri Lanka. Though we don’t know everything for sure about these crimes yet. Some authors, like here and here, say that conflicts within the Sri Lankan political establishment may also have been a possible cause.

Sri Lanka bomb atrocities, by whom?

St. Sebastian's Church, Negombo, Sri Lanka, photo Bernard Gagnon

This photo shows St. Sebastian’s Church, Negombo, Sri Lanka before the recent bomb attacks.

By Phil Miller:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Who is behind the Sri Lanka bombings?

Although the government has already blamed Islamist extremists for the wave of deadly bombings, something does not add up, writes PHIL MILLER

THE horrific wave of bombings that rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday is a watershed moment in the island’s troubled history.

Hundreds have died and many of the victims are still unidentified.

There is also a race to understand who was behind the slaughter — and how they were able to carry it out.

The choice of targets — simultaneous suicide bombs at churches and luxury hotels — is reminiscent of an al-Qaida or Isis attack.

The idea that Islamist extremists are responsible is certainly a narrative that some Sri Lankan officials are pushing.

Today a local Muslim group, National Thowheed Jama’ath, was being blamed — allegedly in cahoots with shadowy foreign backers.

There are certainly some Muslims in Sri Lanka who may exhibit extremist tendencies. Not far from the bombing at Batticaloa on the island’s east coast lies the town of Kattankudy, where many of the local Muslim community are influenced by Saudi-style Islam.

Much has been written about the “Wahhabi invasion” on the island’s once moderate Sufi Muslims, and it would be easy to blame conservative Islam as the incubator for these atrocities.

But there is also plenty of evidence that points in other directions, and at the time of writing some 24 hours after the explosions, no group has claimed responsibility.

The confusion is evident just by watching the rolling news channels, which yesterday were struggling to put out a neat linear narrative.

Many British media platforms pulled their correspondents out of Sri Lanka when the civil war between the Tamil Tigers and government forces ended a decade ago, leaving news anchors struggling to understand the complex patchwork of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious make-up.

The well-trodden “war on terror” grand narrative, a clash of civilisations between Muslims and Christians in a 21st-century crusade, makes little sense in Sri Lanka where both these religious groups are minorities — and have often been persecuted by [extremists within] the majority Sinhala Buddhist community.

In one case, the Sri Lankan air force bombed a Catholic church in Jaffna, St James, killing scores of civilians in 1993.

A British Tamil journalist, Thusiyan Nandakumar, bravely tried to make this point in a BBC interview yesterday — that historically Tamil Christians are more likely to have been massacred by the Sri Lankan military than Islamist extremists.

Such is the nature of Sri Lankan politics that Nandakumar, a Tamil, was then trolled by patriotic Sinhala keyboard warriors for making this historically accurate point.

He received thousands of hate-filled messages that left him fearing for his safety.

The backlash rather underlines the point that [some] Sinhalese Buddhist groups in Sri Lanka do have a history of religious intolerance, which can either be exercised through their presence in state structures or in street movements.

Last March saw some of the worst anti-Muslim rioting in Sri Lanka, which was led by Sinhala Buddhist mobs, fuelled by Islamophobic rumours circulating on social media — and crucially given support by riot police who seemed to evaporate in several locations, allowing mobs to move in.

If the Muslim community in Sri Lanka was feeling vengeful, then an attack on Buddhists would have been more predictable than this assault on Christians at Easter.

When Muslims have resorted to political violence in Sri Lanka before, it has not taken on an anti-Christian dimension.

Indeed, a “Christian identity” holds little political traction in Sri Lanka, where the larger communities tend to identify along ethnic lines.

The Tamil Tigers, a secular movement, were composed mainly of Tamil speakers who were Hindu or Christian. In their early years, their ranks also included Tamil-speaking Muslims.

The Sri Lankan military recognised the threat posed by a pan-Tamil alliance, and from 1985 took deliberate steps to drive a wedge between Tamil Muslims and non-Muslim Tamils in the Eastern province.

The security forces aided and abetted Muslim attacks on the village of Karaitivu, which soured Tamil-Muslim relations for decades to come.

There is now a real risk that after yesterday’s bombing at the Zion Church in Batticaloa, those old tensions in the Eastern province could reignite into anti-Muslim riots.

Such a scenario would benefit Sri Lanka’s deep state Sinhala Buddhist structures, as it would see further division among the Tamil-speaking people in the east.

It would also allow the security forces to intervene, unusually, on the side of the non-Muslim Tamils — at a time when military leaders are facing international sanction for war crimes they committed against this same group a decade ago.

Political figures like the country’s former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was recently served with a war crimes suit while travelling abroad, is running for president — and will cast himself as the anti-terror candidate.

He could also absolve himself internationally if the terror threat was now from Islamist extremists, rather than the Tamil Tigers, who never neatly fitted the “war on terror” mould as much as he tried.

This “who benefits” question has even led some to speculate that Gotabhaya himself may have had a hand in Sunday’s bombings.

Sections of the military apparatus are still loyal to his family, and would have the capability to pull off such an attack — or at least ensure a blind eye was turned.

There are already reports that warnings on the attacks were ignored, raising questions about why these attacks weren’t stopped.

Sri Lanka is such a heavily militarised society, it is hard to imagine how a plot like this went undetected.

The attackers’ ability to strike simultaneously at three of the country’s most luxurious hotels, where security is tightest, is almost incomprehensible.

As is the news that a pipe bomb was found, unexploded, outside the international airport, which is also a high-security military base.

But even this elaborate deep-state scenario ultimately does not add up. The bombing of hotels will have almost destroyed Sri Lanka’s tourism industry for the foreseeable future, an industry in which the military has a large stake — its personnel run numerous resorts.

And so we may never know who was really responsible. Sri Lankan police say dozens of suspects have been taken into custody, but this is a police force with a proclivity to torture — a tactic which will irrevocably tarnish the testimony of those they interrogate.

What will matter is the perception of who was responsible, and how those with power will be able to play this to their advantage. The careful inter-faith work that the clergy in Batticaloa have done over the years will now be more vital than ever to prevent a spiral of violence.

SRI LANKA DEATH TOLL RISES TO 359 The death toll from the Easter suicide bombings in Sri Lanka rose to 359, police said Wednesday, as the country’s leaders vowed to overhaul the security apparatus amid a series of intelligence lapses before the attacks. [AP]

Sri Lanka government abuses terrorism for autocracy

This 18 December 2013 video says about itself:

Full Video: Live censorship on Sri Lankan state TV station amid criticism of new broadcasting law

Reporters Without Borders condemns the government pressure that led to the debate programme “Ira Anduru Pata” being cut short as it was being broadcast live on the evening of 4 November on state TV station Rupavahini. It ended a discussion of a new broadcasting law by three guests, including Free Media Movement convener Uvindu Kurukulasuriya.

The presenter announced a break for advertisements after 45 minutes, but the rest of the programme, which normally lasts two hours, was suppressed. Kurukulasuriya had been criticising the government’s media policies before he was censored. It was the first time in nine years that this press freedom activist was invited to speak on Rupavahini.

This censorship came as widespread criticism forced the government to retreat on its newly-introduced Private Television Broadcasting Station Regulations. After receiving representatives of journalists’ organisations and media owners, media and information minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa announced that implementation of the new regulations would be suspended for a month, and he gave the media two weeks to submit their proposals for amendments.

Four people, including Kurukulasuriya as FMM representative, filed a petition before the supreme court challenging the regulations, which were published in the official gazette on 10 October without any form of prior consultation. The new rules would restrict development of privately-owned TV by increasing the government’s control over the issuing and withdrawal of broadcasting licences, which would have to be renewed annually. Noting the government’s decision to suspend the regulations, Reporters Without Borders said: “This law is extremely dangerous for media freedom. Delaying its implementation is not enough. Its content needs to be changed radically.

By K. Ratnayake and Peter Symonds:

After terrorist bombings, Sri Lankan government imposes draconian national emergency

23 April 2019

The Sri Lankan government has exploited Sunday’s terrorist bombings, which claimed at least 290 lives, to impose a national state of emergency that gives the police and military draconian powers of arrest and detention.

While many details have not been released, Sunday’s attacks involved coordinated bombings, within minutes of each other, of three Christian churches, packed for Easter Sunday services, and three luxury hotels. The death toll is likely to rise, as many of the more than 500 injured are in critical condition.

The World Socialist Web Site condemns the horrendous bombings, which indiscriminately killed innocent men, women and children, and have already provided the pretext for sweeping anti-democratic measures.

Even before the state of emergency was announced, the government imposed an unprecedented nationwide block on social media, including Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp, supposedly to prevent the circulation of “false news”. A curfew is already in force.

The state of emergency will activate key sections of the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) that allows the military, as well as the police, to make arbitrary arrests on suspicion of terrorism, and to detain suspects for lengthy periods without charge.

The PTA, which also allows for confessions extracted by torture to be used in court, was widely used during the brutal three-decade communal war by successive Colombo governments against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The emergency powers also allow for the forcible suppression of “mutiny, riot or civil commotion” and the maintenance of essential services—a measure that has, in the past, been used to suppress strikes. The police and military will also have powers to enter and search, to seize property and to compulsorily acquire property other than land.

The WSWS warns that these profoundly anti-democratic measures are, above all, directed against the working class, amid a resurgence of strikes and protests against the government’s harsh austerity measures. Hundreds of thousands of plantation workers took strike action last December to demand a doubling of their poverty-level wages …

One of the government’s first actions under the state of emergency has been to ban all May Day rallies and meetings—a clear sign that the real target of the crackdown is the working class. May 1 has traditionally been widely observed by the Sri Lankan working class as the day of international workers’ solidarity.

The bombings have taken place amid an acute political crisis in Colombo’s ruling circles, fueled both by the rising class struggle and intense geo-political rivalries between the United States and China.

The current Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, came to power in the 2015 election, ousting Mahinda Rajapakse in what was a regime-change operation orchestrated by Washington, with the assistance of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was installed as prime minister. The US was hostile to Rajapakse’s close ties to China.

Three years later, however, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe fell out, as the government’s popularity sharply fell as a result of its sweeping attacks on the living conditions of working people. Last October, Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe, installed Rajapakse as prime minister, then dissolved parliament. Under pressure from Washington, he was compelled to make an about-face and reinstall Wickremesinghe after the Supreme Court ruled his actions unconstitutional.

The Sunday bombings took place in the context of these bitter rivalries, intrigues and plotting. The most extraordinary revelation, to date, is that 10 days before the bombings, the Sri Lankan police received a foreign intelligence alert specifically warning of plans “to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches” by the Islamist group National Thowheeth Jamma’ath (NTJ).

Desperate to deflect public anger over the failure of the police to take action, the rival factions led by Wickremesinghe, Sirisena and Rajapakse are all pointing the finger at each other. However, none of the obvious questions has been answered: how did a small, little-known Islamist group, previously known only for defacing Buddhist statues, obtain the resources and skills needed to mount a sophisticated, coordinated attack involving suicide bombers that would have required months of preparation?

If the NTJ wanted to escalate their actions, then one would expect logically that they would plan bloodbaths in Buddhist temples, not in Christian churches.

Moreover, how was it that the police, military and intelligence services, built up over decades of civil war, took no action, even after an intelligence alert named the likely perpetrators? The Colombo political establishment and security apparatus is deeply mired in Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism and has strong links to Buddhist extremist groups that have attacked Christians and Muslims and their places of worship in the past.

While government ministers have pointed to a sinister “international network,” it cannot be ruled out that the culprits are closer to home. Could a faction of the military-police-apparatus have turned a blind eye to the impending attack, or even manipulated the bombers to advance its political aims? This is certainly possible, given the long history of dirty tricks and crimes carried out by the security forces during the island’s protracted civil war.

In a particularly revealing comment to the BBC, telecommunications minister Harin Fernando declared: “There are so many ways we could look at this, but right now our biggest priority would be to find what really led these eight or 10 or 12 men to carry out this attack. But we are not ruling out a coup as well. [emphasis added]”

Decades ago, I spoke to a scientist who had done research in a Sri Lankan village. One day, someone stole something from her. She went to the local police station. It turned out that the police then beat up and tortured some local boys. They always used these probably innocent local boys as scapegoats, when they did not know who had committed a crime. The stolen item was not recovered.

Things similar to what happened on that village scale may well happen now in Sri Lanka on a national level. And may well happen in many other countries.

Whatever skullduggery may or may not lie behind the bombings, all factions of the ruling class, despite their bitter rivalry, are completely united on one fundamental issue: intense fear of, and hostility to, the emerging struggles of the [working] class.

The imposition of police-state measures in Sri Lanka, including, for the first time, a ban on social media, is part and parcel of the anti-democratic agenda being imposed around the world. Last month, in the wake of the fascist attack on mosques in New Zealand, the government censored the Internet and is expanding the repressive apparatus of the state. Now the bombings in Sri Lanka are being exploited to set new precedents, which will also be implemented elsewhere in Asia and internationally.

Sri Lankans denounce anti-Christian terrorism

Sri Lankan bomb attack witness N.A. Sumanapala

From the World Socialist Web site in Sri Lanka:

Sri Lankan bomb survivors and local residents denounce terror attacks

By our correspondents

22 April 2019

World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) reporters spoke with residents of Kochchikade, in Colombo and Katuwapitiya in Negombo where two of yesterday’s deadly bomb blasts occurred. They also visited the Colombo National Hospital and Negombo District Hospital, interviewing injured survivors and others searching for news about their missing relatives.

N.A. Sumanapala, who lives in Jampattah Street, opposite St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, said: “There was a huge blast at about 8.45 in the morning, just before the morning prayers ended. People were screaming and there were pieces of flesh scattered around. Because it’s Easter Sunday, there could have been thousands of people in the church. Many came from remote areas for the Easter service.

“There was only one ambulance at that time and it arrived about half an hour after the bomb attack. Victims were transported to the hospital by buses, three-wheel taxies and other vehicles owned by local residents.”

Sumanapala angrily denounced the terror attack. “I don’t know who is responsible for the blast but it’s a barbaric act,” he said. “We experienced a 30-year war which had a huge and devastating impact on everyone. The aim of this bomb attack could be to instigate communalism and turmoil. It must be totally condemned.”

Stephen Fernando

Stephen Fernando, who also lives near St Anthony’s church, said: “There was a huge blast which occurred whilst I was sleeping. My mother said that the explosion was in the church and so I rushed there. There was blood and flesh everywhere. It was very upsetting and people were screaming and running.” Fernando denounced the terrorist attack, condemning it as “a cynical attempt to provoke conflicts among the people who live with harmony.”

Sri Lankan hospital authorities only allowed the media to visit Ward 32 at Colombo National Hospital where 35 victims with minor injuries from Kochchikade blast had been admitted.

Shonal Daniel, 15, a student from Wattala, a Colombo outer suburb, had injuries to his face and right arm. His father told the WSWS that his son had gone to morning prayers at Kochchikade church but had arrived late. “Because he was late we were upset but then we heard that there was a blast at the church and we rushed there and learned that the victims had been taken to the hospital. We came here in great fear but fortunately he only has minor injuries. This bomb attack is a brutal crime.”

Ranjith Kumar

Ranjith Kumar, 42, a porter at Petah in Colombo, was being treated for burns. “I was inside the church and suddenly there was a blast and then another big sound with flames. I was knocked over but managed to get out,” he said.

“My wife fell down. She has head injuries and was admitted to Ward 38. My 10-year old son was also in the church but fortunately only had some of his hair burnt. We don’t have a regular monthly income but only earn about 2,000 rupees for a whole day’s work. I have to feed six people on this income. This incident is a huge blow for us.”

Nelson, 32, from Nawalapitiya in Sri Lanka’s central province, works for a gas company in Gampaha, 25 kilometres from Colombo. “My head was hit hard when I was knocked down by the bomb blast and several people fell on me. My uncle, who was with me in church, cannot hear anything now because of the huge sound of the blast. The mass was occurring in Tamil and we were lighting the candles when the bomb went off.


“My wife has just had a baby and is in Castle Hospital [in Colombo], waiting to go home. She doesn’t even know that I’ve been admitted to the hospital. Fortunately I’m alive but this is an outrage. Look how many people have been killed and injured.”

Two young women were at the hospital searching for their husbands who had been at St. Anthony’s church. They could not find them. One of the women, S. Rohini, is married to Loganathan Rames, 30, a salesman at a rice shop.

“We were married five years ago and have a five-year-old child,” she said. “My husband went to the Kochchikade church service but I, and other family members, went to another church. We’ve searched all wards in the National Hospital and even we went to other hospitals but we cannot find him anywhere. We strongly condemn these attacks,” she said.

WSWS reporters also visited the Catholic Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo where there were still about 20 bodies in the building. The bodies, which were burned beyond recognition and scattered across the floor, remained there until 2 p.m. Blood was splattered across the church interior and the all building’s roof tiles broken by the blast.

A distraught middle-aged man came out of the church and yelled: “Where was the god when these things happened? Whoever did this, any retaliation will only lead to the killing of ordinary people.”

Relatives of bomb victims were rushing to the church and then across to Negombo hospital. Sri Lankan police and other security forces have imposed severe restrictions on visiting patients. Only one member from a victim’s family is allowed to enter the hospital.

Large numbers of weeping men and women, some from distant areas, were at the hospital trying to locate injured relatives. One person, whose mother-in-law was killed in the blast, wept: “My younger son came home bleeding from his head but I can’t find my 15-year-old son. He is not in the church nor in the hospital.”

Relatives of the victims

A doctor told the WSWS that most of the injured patients had been transferred to Colombo National Hospital, the Teaching Hospital in Ragama or another hospital in Chilaw, because there were not enough beds and medical staff at the Negombo facility.

Responding to media appeals, large numbers of people, mostly youth, had come to the hospital to donate blood for the critically injured. One of them bluntly told the WSWS: “Irrespective of who carried out this attack, it will be taken advantage of by the rulers. The politicians will exploit this to further postpone the elections, impose more burdens on the people and ban strikes.”