Sri Lankan govt tries to shutdown church service for Tamil dead

May 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Colombo, May 23, 2017: A Sri Lankan court tried to stop a Jesuit priest organizing a memorial service for Tamils killed during the country’s civil war because it might threaten peace and national security.

Father Elil Rajendram received a court order to stop a May 18 service to remember Tamils who died in the country’s 30-year civil war. The service was to be held on the grounds of a church in Sri Lanka’s north, a region where the rebel Tamil Tigers were based and from where they waged war.

The government remembers May 18 as a day of victory while Tamils remember it as a day of mourning.

Father Rajendram’s memorial service included carved names of dead Tamils on stone but police were concerned that the list may include the names of former Tamil Tiger fighters.

The order was challenged the same day and a Mass was eventually allowed to be held inside the church situated in the village of Mullivaikkal where hundreds of Tamil civilians were killed during the final stages of the civil war that ended in 2009.

Ruki Fernando, a human rights activist, said it was totally unacceptable to stop the Tamils from remembering their loved ones.

“It’s terrible that Father Elil was summoned to the police station three times in one week. His parents’ residence has even been visited by police,” said Fernando.

“However, in Colombo, members of the Sri Lankan army remembered their dead as war heroes at a national event patronized by the president,” he said.

“This amounts to blatant discrimination against both living and dead Tamils, irrespective of whether they are civilians or members of the Tamil Tigers. The armed forces of Sri Lanka and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Marxist party are alleged to have committed serious crimes but their members are remembered as heroes,” he said.

Father Elil and others have been helping Tamils remember their dead despite surveillance, intimidation and repeated police summons.

Fernando said all Christians, especially Jesuits and Catholic bishops should extend solidarity to Father Elil. “They must support him in continuing the important work started. This is an essential part of moving towards reconciliation, coexistence and national unity.”

Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council said there is a need for a Tamil memorial. “It is not enough to open new buildings and new infrastructure,” Perera said in a weekly column.

Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardena said the commemoration was an attempt to discredit the real heroes of the country’s armed forces while the International Truth and Justice Project called on the government to stop intimidating Tamil activists.

The U.N. Human Rights Office documented killings, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture and attacks on civilians between 2002 and 2011 committed on both sides of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which came to an official end in 2009 when the government overran Tamil guerrillas in the country’s north.

According to the U.N. the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone.

– ucan

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