Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera today said the Constitution does not give power to any politicians, priests or social media platforms to decide who is guilty or innocent of any crime, including terrorism.
In a lengthy statement issued to the media under the title “The Cardinal Truth”, Minister Samaraweera said every elected and appointed official in Sri Lanka has sworn an oath to uphold and defend such a Constitution.
“Deciding who is guilty or innocent of any crime is a sacred duty left to our judges, after a police investigation and fair trial. In a country with such a proud tradition of justice, where all citizens were once entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty, people including a cabinet minister have been declared guilty without evidence, and the police have literally invited public complaints against these targeted four individuals in order to find them guilty of something – anything. Racists and xenophobes have hijacked our justice system and literally turned it upside down,” he said.
He said if Rishad Bathiudeen or anyone else has committed a crime, there is a process for a criminal investigation to commence, for evidence against them to be presented before courts and for justice to take its course.
“If they are guilty, they should be punished. Especially in the current context, our police and security forces have unprecedented autonomy to investigate and prosecute anyone remotely connected to these attacks. But never in the history of our country have people first been declared guilty by the press and in parliament, only to thereafter have the police call for evidence that they may have committed a crime. Everyone should know how Bathiudeen earned the ire of the SLPP and its minions among the media and the clergy. When they tried to illegally overthrow the government last October 26, they pleaded with Bathiudeen to join their government by bribing him and threatening him. But Bathiudeen refused to support an illegal government. Mark my words, had he supported Mahinda Rajapaksa in parliament last year, there would not have been a no-confidence motion against him,” he said.
In recent years, the minister said Sri Lankans have made many strides towards a more united country. However, for every step forward we take, he said the stark reality is that there will always be those whose political survival depends on dragging the country backwards and trying to divide us along sectarian lines.
“It cannot be said too many times that most Tamils had nothing to do with the LTTE, most Sinhalese did not support the JVP insurrections, most Muslims abhor and denounce radicalisation of their Islam, and most Catholics and other Christians are disgusted by the attempts of a few to legitimise a racist and religiously motivated witch hunt. At the forefront of this witch hunt, attempting to hijack our criminal justice system with sectarian fairy tales about forced sterilisations and terrorists lurking under every kufi, are the same men of the cloth who before 2015 led mobs to burn innocent shopkeepers alive. Standing in solidarity with this hatred are those who committed the cardinal sin of remaining silent while these same mobs attacked and set alight evangelical churches with the tacit blessing of the last regime. These laymen and clergy do not represent the vast majority of followers of their faith, who want only to live together in peace and harmony,” the minister said.
He said when a political party, media organisation or religious leader depends for their survival on one group of Sri Lankans becoming afraid of another, we must be wary of them.
“When their survival depends on highlighting what divides us and undermining what unites us, we must be wary of them. What these people do not want you to know is that in a united Sri Lanka, they would have no role. No one would vote for them. No one would worship with them. No one would advertise with them. No one would listen to them. That is why they try to frighten us. That is why they try to divide us. That is why they mercilessly and ruthlessly target anyone who would try to unite us. They don’t care what faith a person belongs to, or whom they support, so long as you are on their side,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said even with his abdomen shredded by bullets and with every reason to give in to hatred and vengeance, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike found the courage and humanity to try and unite the country.
“In the truest sense of Buddhism, he appealed for his murderer to be shown compassion. “I appeal to the people of my country to be restrained and patient at this time,” said the dying Prime Minister. Those closest to him, he implored “to be calm and to face the present situation with courage and fortitude.”
I am a devout Buddhist, not because I say so, but because I believe deeply in the tenets of Buddhism and the teachings of the Buddha. I believe that when our Constitution calls upon our country to “give to Buddhism the foremost place” and to “foster the Buddha Sasana”, this means defending the values the Buddha preached, such as compassion, tolerance and peace,” he said.