Groundviews

Deeds of mosque in Dambulla and photos of damage: How is this structure illegal? (UPDATED)

Groundviews was sent a copy of what we were told was the deed of the mosque at the centre of an on-going controversy in Dambulla, Sri Lanka. We were also sent photos of the damage and vandalism wrought by the mob violence a few days ago.

We’ve uploaded the document to Scribd as a PDF, and the high resolution, original scanned images of the deed to Flickr. Both are embedded below, along with four photos of vandalism to copies of the Quran and the cupboards in which they were stored.

Groundviews has already flagged that the basis upon which the PM, in a televised submission, said that the mosque was an illegal construction is hugely suspect.

In a video of a community meeting uploaded to YouTube two days ago, in the presence of Senior Minister for Urban Affairs A H M Fowzie and the Assistant Government Agent, there is a discussion in Sinhala about, inter alia, the legality of the mosque. The discussion on the mosque’s location and legality starts around 6.20 into the video. at around 7.50, the AGA is directly asked whether she thinks the mosque is an unauthorised structure. Seconds before, the discussion was about the fact the mosque had been there for decades. The AGA unequivocally notes that the structure is unauthorised. When asked why she thinks so, she says nowhere in the AGA’s office is the structure recorded as a mosque. When the crowd informs her that this is not necessary given the law in Sri Lanka, she responds that she doesn’t even have a copy of the records that some in the crowd say have been for years with the central government.

From around 8.40 to around 9.30, a lawyer present at the meeting politely and patiently runs through the relevant laws around registering a mosque, reiterating that the AGA’s office is not the location, under the law, that it should be registered with. The AGA persist and says that her office has no record of a mosque or kovil in the area. A person from the crowd retorts that while this may be the case, it is irrelevant under the applicable laws. In response however, the AGA simply notes that there is no record of a mosque or kovil in her records.

Given the exchange above, we publish the deeds for wider public scrutiny in the hope that informed persons, including lawyers more familiar with the registration of places of worship, and in particular, mosques, are able to shed light on why a structure that has, by multiple accounts of residents in the area, been present and used for decades, and ostensibly for which the deeds are also available, is now considered illegal and unauthorised.

5:53pm: Pursuant to the vibrant debate on Twitter (follow on @groundviews) over the original post, Groundviews has just been forwarded copies of what we are told is the original deed, and other relevant documentation over the land for the extension of the mosque. This documentation was kindly sent to us from the office of Reyyaz Salley.