A Sinhala nationalist monk has lodged a complaint with Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), after the leader of the extremist Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena had his account blocked from Facebook due to complaints of racism.
Athuraliye Rathana, a Buddhist monk, parliamentarian and founder of the Sinhala nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), complained to the HRC that BBS leader Gnanasara was not a racist.
“Ven. Gnanasara Thera, is a social activist, who foretold the danger posed by Muslim extremism and openly talked against it,” he told reporters outside the HRC. He went on to back his fellow controversial monk, stating “even after what Ven. Gnansara Thera said was found to be correct, why is the social media ban continuing?”.
In the past, Gnanasara has been accused of hate crimes and has spread Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Muslim violence on the island. In 2019, he was pardoned by then-president Sirisena after being jailed for contempt - a move that solidified the majoritarian use of presidential power.
Since his pardon, Gnanasara had teamed up with Rathana to a form new joint coalition to contest in Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections.
Earlier this year the monk claimed the North-East was “not Tamils homeland” and instead said Sri Lanka is a Buddhist Sinhala country, and also provoked a response from the Turkish embassy after claiming they had funded Arabic international schools that conducts extremist teachings in Sri Lanka.
Social media, especially Facebook, has been used to spread violent and inflammatory rhetoric across the island. This intensified after the 2019 Easter bombings, which the monks are now pointing to as justification to reinstate Gnanasara' account, claiming he was “found to be correct” about Muslim extremism.
Facebook has been widely criticized for its uneven enforcement of hate speech guidelines on the platform. The company recently announced plans to curb hate speech in ads, but many are still dissatisfied with the ease with which racist rhetoric and misinformation, like Gnanasara's, can be widely shared.