Religious harmony sought after Sri Lankan comedian arrested for 'libel of Buddhism'

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

Jayani Natasha Edirisuriya. At wsws.org

Sri Lankan officials arrested Jayani Natasha Edirisuriya, a Sri Lankan comedian, late last month after she was accused of "defaming Buddhism" during a comedy in April. Edirisuriya, 31, was arrested at Katunayake International Airport on May 28, where she is believed to be planning to leave the country due to growing public backlash.

Among the statements allegedly made by Edirisuriya were remarks about Buddhist girls and the miraculous birth of the Buddha. Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is investigating Edirisuriya as well as similar comments allegedly made recently by a Protestant pastor.

During his comedic performance, Edirisuriya is said to have made critical comments about the concerns of contemporary parents regarding the development of their young children.

Apparently, she said, “When I hear these things, I guess there may have been a huge pressure on the kids who were the same age as baby Siddhartha. Look at Shuddhodana's child, he walked right after he was born. . . This boy from Shuddhodana quoted a poem right after he was born, but what about our children! . . . (N)ours expect us to do everything on their behalf. (WSWS)

Nihal Thalduwa, the police spokesman, said an investigation had been opened into those who "facilitated and sponsored Edirisuriya" for his performance, called "Modibhimanaya" (Fool's Pride), and people who viewed the program, which has been posted online. (WSWS)

Bruno Divakara, a social media activist, was also arrested, accused of aiding and abetting Edirisuriya by uploading his video to his YouTube channel. He was accused of "inciting religious discord between various communities" by posting the video. (WSWS)

Edirisuriya and Divakara were sentenced to be detained until June 21 by Colombo Fort Magistrate's Court.

Some Buddhis monks called for Edirisuriya's arrest after his remarks were made public. Fri. Balangoda Kassapa Thera, referring to some Christians, said "Born Again gang members are behind insults to Buddhist culture, and the law should apply to everyone" in the country. (UCA News)

He also said that "those who have made defamatory statements about Buddha's character must be openly punished." (WSWS)

Edirisuriya claims she had no intention of insulting Buddhism and has publicly apologized for the comments she made in the video.

On May 29, President Ranil Wickremesinghe instructed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles “to establish a special police unit to investigate and act on persons or groups who disturb religious harmony.” (WSWS)

Buddhists outside the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. At ucanews.com

Catholic leaders in Sri Lanka have called for calm following this and other recent incidents.

Father Cyril Gamini, media spokesman for the Archdiocese of Colombo, said at a May 31 press conference that “racial and religious conflicts have been created to gain political power throughout history. It seems that the persecution of Buddhism is part of a conspiracy to seize power. (UCA News)

He added that “the Church condemns recent statements denigrating Lord Buddha and Buddhist religious practices. It is the responsibility of the CID to carry out a full investigation and reveal the truth about all individuals and organizations suspected of insulting other religions, including Buddhism. (UCA News)

Buddhism is recognized as the state religion of Sri Lanka, a country of approximately 22 million people. According to 2012 census data, 70,2% of Sri Lankans identify as Theravadin Buddhists, 12,6% claiming Hinduism as their religion, 9,7% identifying as Muslims and 7,4% as Christians . Buddhism enjoys many special privileges under the constitution of Sri Lanka, although the constitution still stipulates freedom of religion for all citizens.

Learn More

Sri Lanka arrests comedian for insulting Buddhism (UCA News)
Sri Lankan Comedian Natasha Edirisooriya Arrested: An Attack on Free Speech (WSWS)
Jayani Natasha accused of insulting Buddhism arrested at airport (Colombo Page)
Church warns of attempts at polarization in Sri Lanka (UCA News)

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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