The controversial leader of a Sri Lankan Buddhist extremist group, who is barred from the US, will travel to Australia next month, according to Sri Lankan media reports.
Bodu Bala Sena’s general secretary, Galagoda Aththee Gnanasara, has been accused of inciting anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka last month that saw four people killed, scores injured and Muslim businesses ransacked and burned.
He has reportedly been refused entry to the US and France.
However, Australia apparently has no such qualms about a man condemned internationally for hate speeches against Muslims and other minority groups.
Sri Lankan media reported yesterday he will attend religious festivals and meetings in several Australian cities.
BBS, which means ‘Buddhist Power Force’ in English, is closely aligned with Sri Lanka’s second most powerful man, defence secretary and presidential sibling, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has met with Australia’s Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, twice in the past three months.
Australia and Sri Lanka have a controversial agreement, which allows Australia to return Sri Lankan asylum-seekers to the country.
Morrison was in Colombo last week for the official hand-over of two Australian naval patrol vessels to help the Sri Lankan government prevent its own citizens, mostly Tamils, from fleeing the country.
Australia has shown a much greater willingness to accommodate Sri Lanka than its traditional allies in recent times.
Australia refused to join the US in co-sponsoring the UN resolution in March that initiated a war crimes investigation into the Rajapaksa regime.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott also stood apart from the other major countries at the CHOGM meeting in Colombo last November in offering uncritical support to the Sri Lankan government.
The Canadian and Indian prime ministers boycotted the meeting while the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, publicly questioned the government over human rights’ abuses.
BBS told the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror last month it planned to protest to the US State Department “following the receipt of a written notification” cancelling Gnanasara’s US visa.
The Tamil Guardian reported that Gnanasara’s visa application to France had also been rejected.
Gnanasara was questioned by Sri Lankan police over the June riots but has not been charged. He was accused of delivering fiery anti-Muslim speeches that set off the riots.
The riots were the latest public display of Buddhist Sinhalese extremism, which has a long history in Sri Lanka.
BBS, which says its mission is “to save the Sinhala race”, constantly calls for bans on Muslim headscarves and halal food.
The Sinhalese make up about 74 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population while Tamils represent 18 per cent and Muslims 7 per cent.
The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, along with his brother, has a close relationship with BBS.
He has denied many times that any element of the Buddhist clergy is extremist or violent.
In a ceremony said to be the “brainchild” of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, more than 3,000 monks have gathered in Colombo in May every year since 2008 to bless the Sri Lankan Army.
The Rajapaksas, along with senior leaders of the military, are currently under investigation by the UN for war crimes over the slaughter of an estimated 70,000 Tamil civilians at the end of the civil war in 2009.
In March last year, a BBS convention issued a statement urging Sinhala people to “protect the nation and not let other races or religions to take over”.
One of its monks, Medagoda Abayathissa, said Sinhala families should be prepared to have at least five or six children to help grow the Sinhala Buddhist population.
Last year the Dalai Lama called on Buddhist monks, including those in Sri Lanka and Burma, to end violence against Muslims.
“Killing people in the name of religion is really very sad, unthinkable. Buddhist monks destroy Muslim mosques or Muslim families. Really very sad,” he said in a speech in the US.
The highly-respected Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who lives in exile after being convicted and jailed for criticising the Rajapaksa regime, wrote last year that Buddhist persecution of Muslims had become “particularly virulent.”
“Instances of violence against Muslims are not isolated events in Sri Lanka. These steps to politically disempower Muslims are uncannily reminiscent of the way the Sinhala establishment tries to destroy the Tamil power base,” he wrote.
* Trevor Grant is a former Fairfax and News Limited journalist, and now the Convenor of the Tamil Refugee Council.
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