President Maithripala Sirisena has pardoned firebrand monk Gnanasara Thero, according to top government sources. “He has signed the papers, they have been sent to the Justice Ministry,” said a senior official who did not wish to be named.
The Buddhist priest, who leads the reactionary group Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force or BBS), was serving prison term following conviction for contempt of court. Widely known for his hate-speech against Muslims, he has in the past also been accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence – a troubling post-war trend in the island.
Gnanasara is likely to be released on Thursday, authorities said. Mr. Sirisena’s decision to pardon him comes at a time when Sri Lankan Muslims are fearing a backlash following the April 21 Easter terror attacks. While authorities said two local radical Islamist organisations were responsible, the IS too claimed responsibility for the ghastly, well-planned serial blasts in which over 250 people died.
The Muslim community’s fears came true when mobs attacked dozens of mosques, and rows Muslim-owned homes and shops in Kurunegala and Gampaha districts on May 12 and 13, in the biggest outburst of violence since Easter. A middle-aged Muslim timbre merchant died.