Catholic Bishops appealed to the government to stop the repression against Fr. Jeewantha Peiris and other protesters.
The Bishop, priests and religious of the Catholic Diocese of Ratnapura, in the Sabaragamuwa Province, demanded the government to protect the fundamental rights of the peaceful struggle as was accepted by the President in Parliament on 3 August 2022.
In a letter, signed by the Bishop of Ratnapura, Rt. Rev. Dr. Cletus Perera, Vicar General Rev. Fr. Damian Fernando, Chancellor Fr. Milton Wickramasinghe, Judicial Vicar Fr. Niroshan Vaz and Procurator General, Pastor Fr. AyalIndika Fernando, they urged the government to provide immediate relief to the economic problems while adopting “sustainable, people-friendly pro-poor economic policies for long term recovery,” of the country.
They called for the government to establish a multiparty, interim government and hold elections in order to form a government with a people’s mandate.
They said that Fr. Jeevantha Peiris had been serving in a very isolated Parish in the Ratnapura Diocese where most parishioners and people were workers in rubber estates. “True to his calling Fr. Jeevantha has sought to bring good news to the poor, whose right to education, health, housing, reasonable wages and identity have continuously been violated.”
The Bishop and Priests expressed extreme concern about the visits by various Police officers to churches in the Ratnapura Diocese and to Fr. Jeevantha’s parents’ home, they said alleging that the Police officers had even implied that the Priest was involved in crime. “On one occasion, they had informed Priests that there were orders from Colombo to arrest him,” they said.
Rev. Dr. Perera and the Priests said that Fr. Jeevantha had reached beyond his parish to understand and support the struggle for the rights and justice of people in different parts of the country including the war affected North.
He actively participated in the people’s struggles as he understood the structural and systematic nature of the problems affecting the poor in his parish and in other parts of the country. They said that they had been in touch with Fr. Jeevantha, met him and supported him in his mission which they noted they considered to be a part of priestly mission in the service of God.
They observed that Fr. Jeevantha had privately and publicly insisted on a peaceful struggle even in the face of violent repression. He sought consensus amongst diverse persons and groups coming with different experiences and ideologies. They noted that, Fr. Jeevantha’s involvement had also been an encouragement to protesters- especially to other religious leaders and youth.
The Catholic Clergy said they were concerned by the media reports on the overseas travel ban imposed on Fr. Jeevantha and several others involved in the protests.
“We are conscious that emergency regulations and other laws have been used in the past to repress dissent and against ethnic minorities,” they noted.
People continue to die in fuel queues, incidents of murder are reported regularly and bodies continue to be washed up on beaches, said the concerned Dioceans accusing the government of continuing with intent of repressing protests and proteters. “We worry that this authoritarian and insensitive approach in dealing with the massive economic and political crisis may lead to further discontent and hamper international assistance in which respect for rule of law and human rights are often decisive conditions,” they observed.