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Racist Buddhist monk sentenced to 4 years imprisonment over anti-Muslim remarks

The Colombo High Court handed down a sentence of four years of rigorous imprisonment to Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara and a fine of Rs.100,000 over anti-Muslim remarks he made in 2016 during a press conference. 

The Colombo High Court judge also instructed that an additional year of imprisonment be added if he fails to pay the imposed fine. The verdict comes weeks after Gnanasara made an apology over his anti-Muslim remarks. He had told courts from the dock that he was remorseful if the remarks had caused distress. 

However, delivering the verdict High Court Judge Adithya Patapendi declared Gnanasara guilty on the two charges of causing harm and provoking religious animosity by insulting Islamic religious beliefs. These statements were made on two occasions between November 2016 and December 2016. 

The monk informed the Judge that he had sought public forgiveness from the Muslim community in Sri Lanka for the controversial remarks made during the press conference on March 31, 2016. 

However, the Judge concluded that his remarks were not accidental but intentional and malicious expressions of religious animosity. She also emphasized the duty of the monk to promote harmony and such statements would escalate ethnic and religious tensions in the country. 

Gnanasara lawyers had pleaded that since their client had not committed a significant offenses and was also granted amnesty by former President Maithripala Sirisena of a previous case of court conviction, this court could consider the same. 

The judge however rebuffed the argument adding that Gnanasara statements were intentional and constituted a verbal offense that carries significant weight likening it to physical harm. In view of this, an act of apology will not diminish the seriousness of the incident or offense. Gnanasara has been moved to Welikada Prison according to reports.

During the 2016 press briefing, he announced that the next aim of BBS following victory after the Hala issue was to "free" Kurugala from Muslims. “Muslims should leave “Kurugala” (Jailani) before 31st April and that this year the Vesak festival will be celebrated in Kurugala.”

The Sinhala chauvinist monk has a history of racist rhetoric against Muslims and Tamils. In 2014, before the anti-Muslim riots, he told a cheering Sinhala nationalist crowd in Aluthgama that “if one marakkalaya ( Muslim) lays a hand on a Sinhalese that will be the end of all of them”. The resulting violence killed four people and left 80 injured, with hundreds left homeless. Amongst the sites attacked were mosques, Muslim homes, businesses, and even a nursery.

Gnanasara has vehemently opposed Tamil’s rights to self-determination, threatening in 2020 of a “river of blood”. “We will not allow the Tamils to find a solution through devolution," he said. "If they demand a separate state again, a river of blood will flow in the North and East.”

His anti-Muslim rhetoric further took root after Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the extremist monk, to head a Presidential Task Force focused on achieving “One Country One Law”.

This is not the first time that the extremist monk has appeared before courts for anti-Muslim incitement. In 2022, Colombo’s Chief Magistrate Court issued an arrest warrant for the former convict and extremist monk after he ignored a court summon over charges of hate speech he directed towards Muslims. Gnanasara’s defense council was unable to present a valid reason for his absence. Gnanasara was previously found guilty on two counts and sentenced to 6 months in prison for threatening the wife of Prageeth Eknaligoda; a critic of the then government in 2010.

He has not apologised for any of his other racist remarks.


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