As Sri Lanka’s economic woes continue to worsen and protests erupt across the country, Sri Lanka’s public security minister, Sarath Weerasekera took to Twitter to propose a bill criminalising the defacement of the Sri Lankan lion national flag.
“You are supposed to love & protect the country known as your 'Motherland' as one's own mother […] Insulting our flag is equivalent to insulting ur own mother,” wrote Weerasekera.
Nation's flag is t identity of ur Motherland. Insulting our flag is equivalent to insulting ur own mother.
In India insulting Nat. flag is a punishable offence.
If provisions dont exist in our penal code shall we introduce one? Will https://t.co/89iuzPU9Eo support the effort?
— Sarath Weerasekera (@ReAdSarath) March 29, 2022
The minister has a record of ultranationalism having previously argued that NGOs and civil society activists should be charged with treason and sentenced to death for their criticism of Sri Lanka. He had also called for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to be banned and rallied against the Sri Lankan national anthem being sung in Tamil. In January last year, Weerasekera attacked Tamil protesters in Jaffna claiming that they had no right to remember “dead terrorists”.
None will & shud be allowed to commemorate dead #Terrorists of a proscribed org undr the guise of remembring innocent civilians & create disharmony!#lka https://t.co/eDPAXAFSOq pic.twitter.com/pikBXqqW6u
— Sarath Weerasekera (@ReAdSarath) January 10, 2021
Photo credit: Shehara De Silva (via @Charindra_chan)
His statement comes as Sri Lankan nationalists feel increasingly emboldened under the Rajapaksa administration. In February during a parade in Colombo Sinhala Buddhists carried flags associated with the racist ‘Sinha Le’ movement – displaying only the lion symbol. In recent years the flags have been flown several times by extremist Sinhala groups, including those behind the ‘Sinha Le’ or ‘Lion’s Blood’ movement and other organisations accused of hate speech.
Sri Lanka’s national flag is dominated by a lion, the Sinhala national symbol, holding a sword facing two small strips, which were added to represent the Tamil and Muslim communities. In 1972, the government added four leaves of the Bo tree, a holy Buddhist tree, to the flag.
“The first and most important thing to understand about the Sri Lankan flag is that every version of the lion flag is, definitionally, racist and fascist in symbolism, including the official one”, wrote Colombo journalist Vajra Chandrasekera in an opinion piece responding to Colombo rally.
Read more here: The Red Flag
Tamils have long rejected Sri Lanka’s flag and other national symbols, with many raising black flags as a sign of protest instead on Sri Lankan Independence Day.