Criminal Proceedings Against ex-President Sirisena
By Buddhika Samaraweera and Amani Nilar
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into 21 April 2019, bombings on Easter Sunday, in its final report, has recommended to the Attorney General (AG) that criminal proceedings be instituted against former President Maithripala Sirisena under provisions of the Penal Code for his failure to appoint an Acting Defence Minister when the former left for Singapore on a private tour on 16 April, 2019.
The report was handed over to the Speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday (23). The Commission has also mentioned about former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe not being invited to the National Security Council (NSC). The Report states that Wickremesinghe was not attending the NSC following Sirisena’s decision to remove him from the post. It also states that Wickremesinghe was not invited by Sirisena to the NSC, even after he re- assumed duties as Premier.
The PCoI states that there is no justifiable reason for Sirisena not to invite the former Premier to the NSC and also points out that Wickremesinghe should have raised the matter in Parliament or Cabinet to ensure that the status quo is restored. It states that the failure of the former Premier to do so and not inviting him to the NSC were unacceptable.
In addition to Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, the PCoI has recommended that criminal charges be filed against former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, former Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis, former Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, former Director of State Intelligence Nilantha Jayawardena and senior DIG Nandana Munasinghe.
The PCoI has also recommended that organisations such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-e-Islami Students Organisation be banned and that an in-depth investigation be carried out into the activities and members of such organisations to file criminal charges under appropriate legal provisions. The Report also states that laws and regulations should be enacted to ban extremist organisations such as the Islamic State (IS).
In the final Report, the PCoI has further recommended that senior government officials should not hold more than one post, as former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando has held senior positions in a number of other institutions in addition to the post of Defence Secretary. For this reason, it is stated in the Report that the PCoI observes that Fernando has not spent enough time for duties of the Defence Ministry.
The Report also states that legal conditions should be established under the Public Security Act to enable the Police to obtain the assistance of the Sri Lanka Army without imposing the state of Emergency.
The PCoI stated in its Report that Zaharan, Rilwan Hashim, Seini Maulavi, Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahmed (Shangri- la hotel suicide bomber), Mohamed Ibrahim Inshaf Ahmed (Cinnamon Grand hotel suicide bomber), Abdul Latif Jameel Mohamed (Dehiwala Tropical Inn Lodge suicide bomber), Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hastun (Katuwapitiya St. Sebastian’s Church suicide bomber), Alawdeen Ahmed Muaath (Kochchikade St. Anthony’s Church suicide bomber), Mohamed Nazar Mohamed Azad (Batticaloa Zion Church suicide bomber), Mohamed Azam Mohamed Mubarak (Kingsbury Hotel suicide bomber), Mohamed Noufar alias Naufer Moulavi who is believed to be the mastermind behind Easter Sunday bombings, Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Moahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim Sadiq Abdul Haq (who is in remand custody over the incident of several Buddha statues being vandalised in the Mawanella area in October, 2018, were directly involved in the Easter Sunday bombings.
In addition, it states that the Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami and the Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami students’ union, as well as groups based on Thowheed ideology, were indirectly involved in the bombing. In addition, the PCoI states that the activities of organisations such as the BBS have also indirectly contributed to the bombings.
The PCoI has also recommended that matters pertaining to the alleged connection between Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen and the copper factory owned by Inshaf in the Wellampitiya area be referred to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).
In addition, the PCoI recommends that clothing designed to cover the entire face be prohibited in any public place. It also points out that such clothing is now banned in many countries around the world.
It also states that the former IGP has failed to curb the activities of the group including Zaharan, despite the large amount of intelligence information provided by the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and other agencies. Accordingly, the PCoI has recommended to the AG that criminal charges be filed against former IGP Jayasundera under the relevant provisions of the Penal Code as well.
The PCoI also recommends that a Presidential Advisory Committee be appointed representing all religious leaders with balanced religious representation and that no politician be appointed to the said committee. It also stated that the publications of all religions should be regulated, adding that the capacity for monitoring and managing publications on social media platforms should also be increased.
In addition, it has recommended that the registration of political parties based on religious reasons and beliefs should be prohibited and that the name of any religion should not be used as a name of any political party. It further states that the TV channel 'Peace TV' should be banned in Sri Lanka and that it has already been banned in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
The Report recommends that legislation be enacted to confiscate all properties, including business properties of the suicide bombers. The PCoI has recommended this after it was revealed that one of the suicide bombers had transferred his properties after deciding to be a suicide bomber.
Recommendations in several categories have been made by the PCoI that includes changes to be made to the sectors such as administration, defence, finance and several others. The PCoI states that the absence of three important components in the administration of the Government plays a pivotal role in the radicalisation process. According to its report, absence of Good Governance, absence of an effective judicial system and absence of platforms to be heard greatly contribute to the radicalisation process.
The PCoI recommends establishing necessary legal provisions for the arrest of any person suspected to be involved in creating religious or ethnic disharmony, without obtaining an arrest warrant.
It recommends that legal provisions should be specifically enacted to prevent any politician including Members of the Parliament, Provincial Councillors or any other local government representative from contacting Police officers in relation to ongoing investigations. This recommendation has been made in view of the interventions made by Bathiudeen and former Governor of the Western Province Azath Salley into the investigations into suspects, who were arrested in connection with the incidents of several Buddha statues being vandalised in the Mawanella area and a stock of explosives being discovered in the Wanathawilluwa area in January 2019.
The PCoIalso recommends ensuring coordination between investigating agencies and not to investigate the same matter unless it is specifically authorised. It has observed that both the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigations Division (TID) have been investigating Zaharan. This has led to an eventual request made by the CID to the TID to withdraw from investigations.
It further recommends for authorities to adopt effective counter measures against cyber terrorism. Moreover, those who operate extremist websites and blogs within the cyberspace should be immediately investigated, charged, prosecuted, tried and sentenced.
The recommendations made by PCoI on the defence sector, also includes that the Ministry of Defence should always come under the President. Constitutional provisions should be enacted to make it mandatory for the President to appoint an acting Minister of Defence if travelling overseas. The acting Defence Minister shall have the power to summon the NSC as well; it is mentioned in the PCoI Report.
The PCoI recommends the implementation of an effective rehabilitation process to de-radicalise religious extremists since the enhancement of security and other measures aimed at countering radicalisation is not sufficient by itself to counter the threat posed by religious extremists. It states that the programmes implemented in Singapore with some modifications are best suited to address religious extremism related issues in Sri Lanka.The Report further mentions that special attention should be given on engaging with the Muslim community including religious leaders and civil society to take a leadership in building religious harmony to counter Islamist extremism and to identify youth who are radicalised.
The case of a mother from Kandy, attempting to contact the Minister of Law and Order in 2017 to inform of her son who was later arrested in connection with the Easter Sunday bombings, has indicated the need to establish a structure where parents and relatives can directly inform the authorities regarding possibly radicalised persons on an anonymous basis, it states. Additionally, the PCoI recommends enacting legal provisions to make it mandatory for suspects convicted of terrorism to undergo a rehabilitation programme while serving their sentence.
The PCoI also recommends that all foreign religious preachers should only be permitted to enter the country after strict scrutiny by intelligence agencies with the approval of the Ministries of Education and Defence. If some religious preacher is blacklisted in any other country, it must be taken into consideration whether they should be permitted to enter. The preacher is required to obtain permission for the contents of a sermon. Their mission, agenda and speeches should be closely monitored by the authorities and action should be taken against any action that violates religious harmony.
Maintenance of a database of all foreigners arriving in Sri Lanka for education purposes as well as Sri Lankans going abroad for educational purposes has been recommended by the PCoI. The recommendation has been made due to evidence that several foreigners identified as extremists visiting Sri Lanka and having played a part in spreading extremism in the country.
It further recommends that a separate class of visa be created to be issued to foreigners who wish to conduct religious preaching, discussions or seminars. All those who wish to conduct such programmes should be informed of the visa as well, the PCoI recommends in its report.
The PCoI Report emphasises the need to introduce a licensing or a registration mechanism for informal money or value transfer service providers such as Hawala, Hundial and require them identify their customers and retain records relating to transactions. The investigations by the PCoI have revealed that some funds to the Zaharan- led group were transferred through the Hawala method.
The PCoI states that presently there is no mechanism to monitor whether money transmitted from abroad to a person, entity or organisation in Sri Lanka is actually used for the stated purpose. The PCoI has, thereby recommended for immediate steps to be taken to address this issue.
The PCoI report notes that a stable Government is essential to fight terrorism, as evidence has revealed that Zaharan's group initiated the attack in Sri Lanka due to the country’s weak Government system at that time.
The PCoI thus recommends an electoral system which gives working majority to a party that obtains more than 50% of the votes at any General Election while ensuring that the minority groups get due representation. Such provisions can be combined with the requirement for political parties to have a particular number of candidates from minority groups from the area where the nomination paper is submitted and the prohibition of an MP joining another political party.
Moreover, it has recommended that legal provision must be made to make it compulsory for every voter to exercise his franchise. Failure to do so must be subject to a fine.
The exercise of franchise should be constructed to include the right of a voter to spoil their votes. This recommendation was made as it was revealed that members of Zaharan's group did not take part in the electoral process. Adoption of such provisions is expected to assist in the identification of islamist extremists as well.
The PCoI recommends for National and Provincial schools, as well as international schools in the future to be liberated from the classification of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Islam religious divisions. All schools are obligated to have a student population representing all religions while a mixed school system should be established at national and provincial level. The PCoI recommends that this be implemented over a period of time to allow schools to adjust to the change.
Furthermore, all religious educational books published for the use of students in National and Provincial schools as well as international schools need to be scrutinised to ascertain whether any extremist or terrorist literature is Included directly or indirectly. An immediate re-assessment of the contents of Islamic educational books in Sri Lanka must be conducted with a view to identify and remove extremist teachings and references to extremist writers, the PCoI has recommended.