Nine Muslim Ministers and two Governors step down in Sri Lanka

Nine Muslim Ministers in Sri Lanka — including four of Cabinet rank — resigned on Monday, taking a collective stand against the community being “demonised” since the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

The move will give the authorities “space and time” to probe allegations linking Muslim politicians to the terror suspects, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem told journalists. “Either they should apprehend and punish any of us found guilty, or they must vindicate us. We hope they will look into this in a month and bring some closure to this,” he said.

“The survival of the government will depend on the manner in which it handles the probe and deals with hate speech, racial violence and impunity,” he said.

‘Innocent victimised’

“Innocent Muslims are at the receiving end…they are being victimised despite the community unequivocally condemning the heinous terror attacks,” he added.

Earlier, the Muslim Governors of the Eastern and Western Provinces, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah and Azath Salley, stepped down, days after a prominent Buddhist monk began a fast demanding that they resign in connection with the April 21 bombings that killed over 250 people.

The monk, Athuraliye Rathana Thero, is a parliamentarian from the ruling United National Party (UNP, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Rathana Thero began fasting on Friday, in front of the iconic Buddhist temple Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, with five demands, including the resignation of Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, and Governors A.L.A.M. Hizbullah and Azath Salley, accused of having links to Easter attack suspects. The politicians have denied the allegations.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s office said on Monday that he accepted the resignation letters of the two Governors, of the island’s Eastern and Western Provinces.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives, said Buddhist priests fasting unto death were effectively “holding the country to ransom”, when “there are laws, there are due processes that should apply in these situations.” Further, Monday’s developments showed that an ethnic community’s political representation was “holding together and willing to sacrifice a certain amount of political power”, he told The Hindu.

If the Muslim community’s political power is relegated to a secondary status in the wake of concerns around national security, he said the country might be heading for a politics that had no place for “an expression of unity in diversity.”

Tamil National Alliance spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran said it was “most unfortunate that Muslim Ministers succumbed to pressure from racists.” “Yesterday us, today you, tomorrow a new ‘other’. We continue to stand in solidarity with Muslim people & call on all right thinking SriLankans to do the same,” he tweeted.

Support for monk

Meanwhile, thousands marched to Kandy on Monday, in support of the monk who demanded the resignation of three the prominent Muslim politicians. Among those who visited the fasting monk was Gnanasara Thero, a fellow monk who was released from jail last month following a presidential pardon. The controversial priest, who has been accused of instigating anti-Muslim violence in the past, has vowed to “defeat Islamist terrorism” in Sri Lanka. Both governors who resigned on Monday are President Sirisena’s appointees and had earlier sought Gnanasara Thero’s release.

Hours after the Muslim politicians announced their decision to resign, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera tweeted: “Hatred is never appeased by hatred. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law a eternal. Today, it was left to our Muslim Ministers to exhibit this sacred teaching of Lord Buddha while impostors in robes incited hatred in his name. A shameful day for our beloved #lka