Anti-Christian posts denounced after Sri Lankan election

Hateful comments deepen the wounds of families still grieving the loss of loved ones in Easter attacks
Anti-Christian posts denounced after Sri Lankan election

Sri Lanka's new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaks at swearing-in ceremony in Colombo on Nov. 22. (Photo: AFP)

A Sri Lankan priest has condemned a series of anti-Christian social media posts in the wake of the presidential election and pleaded for people to curb their language.

Father Shiran Chamika from Chilaw Diocese appeared in a Facebook video urging citizens not to abuse social media by calling for further violence. The Nov. 16 election was held with national security a key factor, seven months after the deadly Easter Sunday suicide bombings.

One post read: “If you attack another church, I will be happy.” Others continued in the same vein: “We are not shy about bombing in Negombo” and “The bombing in Negombo is not enough.”

In the series of April 21 attacks, a group of nine suicide bombers affiliated with local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) blasted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 270 people, including 40 foreign nationals, and injuring at least 500.

Father Chamika was very upset with the post-election comments and pleaded for empathy to be shown toward the people of Negombo and surrounding areas who were injured and lost loved ones.

“I can’t say whether those people were Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim or Hindu. I don’t think anyone who posts this has a religion,” he said.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the country’s seventh president with 52.25 percent of votes, having been nominated as candidate for the Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) by his older brother Mahinda, the former president.

Gotabaya had vowed during his election campaign to appoint an independent commission under his leadership to help secure justice for the Easter Sunday victims, but senior church figures were not convinced.

Indeed, the general public joined with Christian leaders in blaming politicians by failing to act on intelligence to prevent the attacks.

During the election, anti-Muslim sentiment was evident in areas where the Sinhalese Buddhist community was predominant, and leaders of the ruling party were accused of supporting Muslim extremism.

'We are broken and divided'

A rights activist, Janaka Saparamadu, said some social media users had urged Sinhalese people not to vote for any candidate who showed support for Muslims.

“Some posts threatened those who voted for Muslim candidates or Muslim support candidates,” said Saparamadu, who has been working for peace and reconciliation in the country after three decades of war.

“The difference in election results and the outcome of the north, east and south was due to the negative feelings of religious extremists. Nationalists on all sides tried to use these results in their polarizing politics.

“Reconciliation comes from the Church, the temple, the mosque, family and school. Today, however, we are broken and divided.”

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He said that the main hopes of Muslim and Tamil people was to live without fear and it was important for all communities to work together as Sri Lankans.

According to the Center for Monitoring Election Violence, five candidates spent a total of 3,108 million rupees (US$17 million) on their four-week election campaigns. Gotabaya’s campaign spent the most — about half the total — while his main opponent, Sajith Premadasa, was not far behind.

Saparamadu accused media institutions of violating election laws during the campaign, resulting in religious leaders, especially Buddhist monks, being marginalized

As a country still recovering from its civil war, the north and east, where majority Tamils and Muslims live, reflected the changing politics of the war-torn people. Saparamadu added: “These people have suffered so much during the war and even since it ended.”

President Gotabaya has promised to provide the necessary conditions for all Sri Lankans to live together harmoniously irrespective of race, religion or caste.

Father Chamika said those who lost family in the Easter bombings were still grieving. “Those people are in so much pain. When social media posts say such utter bad words for those who have lost their mother, father and children, this in intolerable,” he said.

Buddhists make up 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million population, while Muslims account for 10 percent and Christians 7 percent.

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