Colombo, June 14, 2018 (AFP) – A firebrand Buddhist monk was sentenced to six months in jail by a Sri Lankan court Thursday for intimidating a woman whose cartoonist husband has been missing since his abduction by the military.
The court in Homagama, near the capital Colombo, also fined Galagodaatte Gnanasara 1,500 rupees ($10) and ordered him to pay 50,000 rupees in compensation to Sandya Eknaligoda for abusing her in January 2016.
He was found guilty on two counts of intimidation and given six months for each offence, both sentences to be served concurrently.
This is the first time Gnanasara has been put behind bars although he has faced several previous cases on charges of hate crimes against minority Muslims in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka.
The saffron-robed monk tried to deliver a statement as the sentence was read out before a packed courtroom, but was stopped short by the judge.
But outside the courthouse he remained defiant.
“I have done my duty by my country,” Gnanasara said as police led him to a prison bus. “I do not regret what I did.”
A spokesman for his Buddhist Force said it had already filed an appeal.
Gnanasara was found guilty of criminally intimidating Eknaligoda during a hearing at the same court on the abduction of her cartoonist husband Prageeth, who went missing in January 2010.
He had been there to voice his support for the military officers accused of abducting Prageeth, whose cartoons lampooned former strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse.
In ugly scenes inside the courthouse, he accused Eknaligoda and her husband of supporting Tamil extremists and bringing the military into disrepute.
He faces a separate contempt hearing at the Colombo High Court over the incident.
– ‘Hope in judiciary’ –
Eknaligoda’s perseverance in campaigning to find out what happened to her husband earned her an “International Women of Courage” award last year from US First Lady Melania Trump.
After the verdict Eknaligoda said she was pleased with the outcome and hoped the punishment would deter others.
“I am happy this turned out like this. Some people thought that the monk will get off lightly with a suspended sentence, but it did not happen,” she told AFP.
“We can still have hope in the judiciary.”
Amnesty International welcomed the decision and described it as a victory for rights defenders in Sri Lanka.
“A clear message has gone out to those who seek to intimidate, threaten and silence people seeking justice,” said Amnesty’s deputy director for South Asia, Omar Waraich.
US ambassador Atul Keshap posted on Twitter after the verdict that Eknaligoda was “an eminently worthy and brave-hearted” recipient of the award for courage.
Last year, Gnanasara spent a month on the run as police pursued him in connection with a string of attacks against Muslims. He later surrendered and was granted bail.
The BBS has denied allegations it was behind riots against Muslims in 2017 and 2014 that left four people dead.
Gnanasara maintains close ties with Wirathu, an extremist monk based in Myanmar, whose hate speech has stoked religious tensions in the country.
Wirathu visited Sri Lanka as a guest of Gnanasara shortly after the 2014 violence in Sri Lanka’s tourist resort of Aluthgama.