Hundreds of people converged in capital Colombo on Saturday as organisers held a first major public vigil and memorial for 257 people who were killed in deadly Easter attacks on Sri Lanka’s churches and hotels last month.
Sri Lanka has been on edge since a string of suicide attacks on April 21 killed over 250 people and wounded nearly 500, forcing authorities to prohibit major public gatherings and vigils due to “security concerns.”
“We are proud Muslims. We are proud of our faith. And culturally, we are very proud Sri Lankans,” Ali Sabry, a member of the Muslim Civil Society Organisation and organiser of “Rise up for Solidarity” vigil, told TRT World.
“We all feel that we have just let the politicians hijack our cause. So, it is time for professionals and civil leaders to get together and give some directions,” Sabry said, at the Independence Square where the event was held.
Political tussles undermining security?
Saturday’s vigil in Colombo 7 sector of the city marks the first major public gathering since the attacks.
Around 1,000 people attended the gathering including leaders from all of Sri Lanka’s major religious groups along with civilians seeking to counter an anti-Muslim backlash.
“We are representing our factory and are here to grieve with people in this moment of tragedy,” TM Sidyalatha, 61, a factory worker said.
“Islam does not condone violence,” said a retired school teacher Dinah Markar, also attending the congregation.
Sri Lanka has faced heavy condemnation for ignoring warnings given by both its own Muslim community and Indian intelligence ahead of the attacks.
The attacks were blamed on the local National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) whose leader was among the suicide bombers. The group had pledged an oath of allegiance to Daesh terrorist group.
Moreover, the island country’s government has been passing through a political crisis, with President Maithripala Sirisena pitted against his own Prime Minister, Ranil Wikremesingha.
“I am here to show solidarity,” said Kimaya, 25, a researcher.
“And the only people I hold responsible [for the killings] are the government. Once again, it has been turned into a political game.”
‘Rise up as One Sri Lanka’
The vigil began with speeches by different religious, civil society and youth leaders.
Organisers and participants lit candles and laid flowers at the podium in remembrance of the victims.
Many of the attendees wore white to symbolise peace and a colour associated with mourning in the island nation of 22 million people.
Others displayed placards reading “Rise up as One Sri Lanka” and “Terrorism has no religion.”
Ayidha, 41, said she attended the vigil to show solidarity the victims and their relatives and to “let everyone else know that what the terrorists claim to have done in our name is not what our religious preaches.”