Photo by Ama Koralage

The churches have been restored for congregations to worship and the luxury hotels have been repaired for the elite to dine in but the families of victims are still seeking justice for the carnage of April 21, 2019. They also need medical, emotional and financial support to rebuild their shattered lives.

April 21 marks five years since 269 people died and 500 more were injured in the Easter Sunday bombings in three churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa as well as three tourist hotels in Colombo where 42 foreigners from 14 countries were killed.

The fifth anniversary of the attacks will be marked by religious services at St. Anthony’s in Kochikade and St. Sebastian’s in Katuwapitiya and a peaceful march by survivors and their supporters. Special programmes will be held in churches across the country.

The Catholic church announced that it is to declare those who died as saints. “This will also give the Easter attack an international appeal because once we declare the victims as ‘heroes of faith’, the international community will come to recognise them more and it will become an international issue,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, a fierce critic of government inaction in finding the perpetrators behind the attacks, said, adding that the church no longer trusted the authorities to reveal who was behind the bombings.

“Up to now, those in power… have not done anything substantial to discover what was behind these attacks,” he said.

In March 2022, Cardinal Ranjith told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that the investigations reveal that the massacre was part of a grand political plot while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an independent and transparent investigation with international assistance.

In 2023 the government appointed a parliamentary committee to investigate allegations made in a British television report that intelligence officials were involved in the attacks. Channel 4 interviewed a man who said he arranged a meeting between an Islamic radical group and a top state intelligence official to devise a plot to create chaos and enable Gotabaya Rajapaksa to win the presidential election.

The attacks were carried out by Islamic militants and the Muslim community was subject to attacks and destruction of their houses and shops. Many Muslims, including poet Ahnaf Jazeem and lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, were detained for months and years afterwards, often on flimsy evidence.

The government says it is still continuing the investigation process but there have been no concrete results. Some officials such as the former Defense Secretary and the former IGP were acquitted in cases filed against them. Although the government filed more than 23,000 charges against 25 men accused of masterminding the bombings in 2021, the trials are dragging on and no one has yet been convicted.

Fundamental rights cases filed by citizens resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that former president Maithripala Sirisena and senior officials were responsible for not preventing the attacks and ordering them to pay compensation, of which little has been forthcoming.

The Supreme Court recommended disciplinary action for negligence against Nilantha Jayawardana, the former director of the State Intelligence Services (SIS) but this is yet to happen while Deshabandu Tennakoon, then a deputy IGP, was found to have been negligent in preventing the attacks by a Presidential Commission of Inquiry. However without instigating any punishment, President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed him IGP instead.

On Friday, spokesman for the Colombo Archdiocese, Father Cyril Gamini, was summoned to the CID to give a statement. He told reporters afterwards that he had provided vital information as well as a 12 page letter that should lead to the masterminds of the attacks. According to reports, he has accused four key intelligence officers of complicity.

Protests and rallying calling for justice and accountability have been prevented by court orders and police bans.

“Holistic justice should include truth-seeking and criminal accountability, especially regarding the masterminds. Both are crucial to prevent future such incidents. Justice must also include long-term and adequate reparations, ensuring rights to mental and physical healthcare, education, livelihood, etc., including compensation,” wrote human rights activist Ruki Fernando.

St Sebastian’s church in Katuwapitiya lost 114 of its congregation while another 65 were wounded. Hasaru Jayakody was 17 when he was caught up in the bomb blast which killed his mother on the spot. Hasaru was badly injured with iron shrapnel and had internal bleeding. He would not have survived if not for people who took him to hospital. He still has pieces of shrapnel in his body. It took him some time to accept the fact that his mother had died.

“It’s been five years and in these five years we don’t know who is responsible and it is very frustrating. We have lost our mother who was the head of our family and took care of my dad. It has affected us very badly; it’s like a piece of us is gone and we can’t get that back.

“The people who are responsible for this are just roaming around doing what they like, what they want. They don’t feel any shame or remorse. To this day we still want justice to be served and we want the people in charge to be punished and not just a light sentence, we want a heavy sentence for them. They didn’t lose anything but we lost a lot,” Hasaru told Groundviews.

Priyantha Jayakody, Hasaru’s father, rues the day he returned to Si Lanka from abroad to treat an infection in his leg and rented a house in front of St Sebastian’s church. Due to his injuries he could not attend Easter service but his wife Priyanthi and his son went.

“I heard the blast and people crying and yelling. I saw injured people running out. I never thought my wife would have died. My heart was telling me that she would have been admitted to hospital. We had been expecting to return overseas but now for the past five years I have been taking care of my son; it’s a new life. The church took care of us, supporting us in numberless ways. The church and the priests are the only ones helping us.

“Why can’t you just answer our question and tell us who did it? Why is there no justice? This is all I am thinking about. For the leaders and officials who shirked their responsibility, what punishments have been given? Why was nobody punished? Instead they are given promotions and they are roaming around freely. Collectively, people are covering up the truth. Our leaders are covering up the truth and protecting the people who are really behind this. I think an international investigation should be done and international authorities should get involved otherwise this will never be solved. I regret having to be born in a country such as this and having come back here,” Mr Jayakody said.

Eva Ananette Appuhamy lost several members of her family in the blast, which injured all her siblings. “I have been depressed. The church supported us a lot, especially the cardinal. Priests and nuns were allocated for each house to help the survivors to recover from the shock. It caused huge trauma for most of the people here. A place was built for people to gather and discuss their difficulties to bring about healing. Not a single person was left behind; each person was helped by the church, not only mentally but also physically.

“Some of the people who were killed were outsiders but I consider them all as my people. I believe justice should be served. We have come a long way from where we were but for the blood that was shed, we only need justice and that is all we are asking for now. We really need an answer as to who did it and we need justice for the lives that were lost,” she said.

For Nayani Kolambage, getting justice is the most important issue. “Who did it is no longer a secret. People know who did it. But I do not know why it’s not being discussed or why the people who did it are not punished. All we are asking for is justice for what these people have done to us, for everything we have lost,” she said.

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