A ‘SYM­BOLIC’ AR­REST

THEY ALSO MAIN­TAINED THAT THERE WAS NO LAW UN­DER WHICH THE WOMAN COULD HAVE BEEN AR­RESTED HE ALSO SAID THAT THE JUDGE SHOULD HAVE AD­DRESSED THE CASE JU­DI­CIALLY THE POINT ABOUT TH­ESE LAWS LIKE THE BLAS­PHEMY LAWS IN ENG­LAND IS THAT IT AP­PLIES IN A RESTRIC

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FEATURES - By Shatara Jaya­suriya

Re­cently a Mus­lim woman was ar­rested for wear­ing a dress with a pic­ture that ap­par­ently re­sem­bled the Dhar­ma­chakra- the wheel of dharma. So­cial me­dia was abuzz crit­i­ciz­ing the ar­rest as many be­lieved that the pic­ture was that of the helm of a ship. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional (South Asia) said that the ab­sur­dity of the pur­ported ‘of­fense’ should be suf­fi­cient to re­lease her im­me­di­ately and pro­vide her with com­pen­sa­tion. The state­ment on twit­ter fur­ther read that Amnesty In­ter­na­tional was shocked by the Sri Lankan au­thor­i­ties’ mis­use of the ICCPR and the Pe­nal Code pro­vi­sions to de­tain peo­ple. The Daily Mir­ror spoke to a cross sec­tion of con­cerned par­ties who be­lieved the ar­rest was part of the on­go­ing anti-mus­lim sen­ti­ments, that such an ar­rest, which amounts to ha­rass­ment, has no place in Bud­dhism. They also main­tained that there was no law un­der which the woman could have been ar­rested.

‘Pic­ture re­sem­bled a Dhar­ma­chakra’

Ac­cord­ing to Po­lice Me­dia Spokesper­son Ruwan Gu­nasekara the woman was ar­rested on the grounds that the pic­ture on her dress ‘re­sem­bled’ a Dhar­ma­chakra. “Since there was a pos­si­bil­ity of the in­ci­dent lead­ing to un­rest with the peo­ple around, the woman was ar­rested. She was pro­duced be­fore courts and is in re­mand un­til the

27th of May,” he told the Daily Mir­ror.

When asked un­der which law the ar­rest was made, he said the Le­gal Direc­tor of the Po­lice is to de­ter­mine it. “We have in­formed the Direc­tor-le­gal to check

whether the pic­ture is that of the

Dhar­ma­chakra be­cause it ap­pears to be like some other pic­ture too. We have in­formed him to ex­am­ine the B re­port and make a de­ci­sion,” he said.

“No of­fence crim­i­nal­is­ing the dress of the woman”

Mean­while, Hu­man Rights Lawyer, J.c.welia­muna said that there was no of­fense that crim­i­nalised the dress of the woman con­cerned. “An ar­rest of a per­son must re­late to an of­fence. What is the law here?” he quizzed.

“If this is to be an of­fence it should be specif­i­cally set out in the law,” he added. He pointed out that even if it was a pic­ture of the Dhar­ma­chakra the ques­tion was whether it was pro­hib­ited to be worn on a dress?

Ac­cord­ing to him in most in­stances Sec­tion 291B of the Pe­nal Code is used to file charges. Sec­tion 291B re­lates to de­lib­er­ate and ma­li­cious acts in­tended to out­rage re­li­gious feel­ings of any class, by in­sult­ing its re­li­gion or re­li­gious be­liefs.

“There should be a crim­i­nal in­ten­tion. Say, you donate clothes with re­li­gious sym­bols such as the cross or the Dhar­ma­chakra to a beg­gar. Do you think the beg­gar should be ar­rested? Does he have an in­ten­tion to in­sult a re­li­gion?” quizzed Welia­muna.

He fur­ther pointed out that Sec­tion

291B was a pro­vi­sion where Court can­not take cog­nizance un­less the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Permission is given or the AG has al­lowed some­one else to pro­ceed with it.

“If some­one did it pur­posely to at­tack Bud­dhism and the in­ten­tion is clear, it is un­der­stand­able (to have in­sulted a re­li­gion)” he said, adding that in the in­ci­dent con­cerned there was no in­sult to Bud­dhism.

He also said that the judge should have ad­dressed the case ju­di­cially.

“This is a knee jerk re­ac­tion to what is go­ing on in the coun­try. This is un­for­tu­nate,” he said.

“The law ap­plies in a re­stric­tive man­ner.”

Speak­ing to the Daily Mir­ror Chair­per­son of the Hu­man Rights

Com­mis­sion (HRC) Dr. Deepika Udagama said that the Com­mis­sion would fol­low up the in­ci­dent with the Po­lice.

“This is about how the law is in­ter­preted. Where the law (on in­sult­ing re­li­gions as found in the Pe­nal Code) is en­forced it should be en­forced re­gard­ing all re­li­gions. No re­li­gion must be in­sulted. The point about th­ese laws like the Blas­phemy laws in Eng­land

is that it ap­plies in a re­stric­tive man­ner. There must be a sense in a plu­ral so­ci­ety that ev­ery­body and all re­li­gions are pro­tected. There should be a bigger dis­cus­sion on blas­phemy,” she said.

‘A prac­tice to show loy­alty to faith’ Mean­while So­ci­ol­o­gist Dr.

Ku­mudu Kusum Ku­mara as­serted that there should be a clear law stat­ing that the par­tic­u­lar sym­bols should not be worn over the body or on a dress. “The Dhar­ma­chakra is worn, among other sym­bols, in chains just like how the Chris­tians wear the cross. This is a prac­tice by which peo­ple show that they are loyal to their faith. It sig­ni­fies their at­tach­ment to the re­li­gion,” he said.

He pointed out that that the pic­ture con­cerned was ob­vi­ously the wheel of a ship.

“We have to view this in­ci­dent as one of tar­get­ing a Mus­lim per­son wrong­fully perceived as con­sciously of­fend­ing Bud­dhist re­li­gious sen­ti­ments. This is part of the wide­spread gen­er­alised an­timus­lim sen­ti­ments that have been sim­mer­ing in the post Easter-bomb

at­tacks that be­came ev­i­dent in so­cial me­dia and sur­faced in the at­tacks on Mus­lims in Gam­paha and the North Western prov­ince ,”

he said.

He fur­ther added that Cus­toms could is­sue guidelines against im­port­ing items with re­li­gious sym­bols; which may of­fend the re­li­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties of a group of peo­ple.

‘This is not the teach­ings of Bud­dhism’

Mean­while, Ven.dham­mananda

Thera, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of

the Walpola Rahula In­sti­tute for Bud­dhist Stud­ies, said that ha­rass­ing peo­ple based on a sym­bolbe it in a dress or slip­per- is not Bud­dhism. “Even if the pic­ture is that of the Dhar­ma­chakra ar­rest­ing peo­ple based on wear­ing a dress with it is not Bud­dhism. The ba­sic teach­ing in Bud­dhism in non-vi­o­lence and not to hurt some­one. Here we are hurt­ing some­one to pro­tect Bud­dhism and in the mean­time are de­stroy­ing Bud­dhism,” he said.

He fur­ther added that Cus­toms could is­sue guidelines against im­port­ing items with re­li­gious sym­bols; which may of­fend the re­li­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties of a group of peo­ple

He fur­ther pointed out that Sec­tion 291B was a pro­vi­sion where Court can­not take cog­nizance un­less the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Permission is given or the AG has al­lowed some­one else to pro­ceed with it

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