Sri Lanka jails firebrand Buddhist monk for Muslim insults

Police personnel escort Buddhist monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara (second right) to prison at Colombo high court on March 29, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AFP

A Sri Lankan court on March 28 sentenced an influential Buddhist monk to four years’ hard labour for fanning sectarian hatred against the island’s minority Muslim population.

The Colombo High Court found Galagodaatte Gnanasara had hurt Muslims by making disparaging remarks about Islam at a 2016 press conference.

“The monk was sentenced to four years of hard labour and fined 100,000 rupees ($330),” a court official said. “He was sent to prison to start serving his sentence.”

Gnanasara has been accused of instigating violence against Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country, where roughly 10% of the 22 million people follow Islam.

He has close ties with Wirathu, an extremist monk based in Myanmar.

This is not the first time that Gnanasara, who once enjoyed powerful political ties, has been in jail.

In 2018, he was sentenced to six years for intimidating the wife of a missing cartoonist and contempt of court but was freed nine months later after former president Maithripala Sirisena pardoned him.

Ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa later made Gnanasara the head of a panel to recommend legal reforms to ensure religious harmony.

At the time, opposition lawmaker Shanakiyan Rasamanickam described Gnanasara’s committee as “the definition of irony”.

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