Sri Lankan officials arrested Jayani Natasha Edirisuriya, a Sri Lankan stand-up comedian, late last month after accusations that she “defamed Buddhism” in a comedy performance in April. Edirisuriya, 31, was stopped at Katunayake International Airport on 28 May where she was allegedly planning to leave the country due to growing public backlash.
Among the statements allegedly made by Edirisuriya were remarks about Buddhist girls and about 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 her comedy performance, Edirisuriya allegedly made critical comments about contemporary parents’ concerns about the development of their young children.
Reportedly, she said, “When I hear these things, I suppose there might have been enormous pressure on kids who were the same age of baby Siddhartha. Look at the child of Shuddhodana, he walked just after he was born. . . That lad of Shuddhodana had cited a poem just after being born, but what about our kids! . . . [O]ur ones are waiting until we will do everything on behalf of them.” (WSWS)
Nihal Thalduwa, the police spokesman, said that an investigation had been started into those who “facilitated and sponsored Edirisuriya” for her performance, called “Modibhimanaya” (Fool’s Pride), and the persons who viewed the program, which was placed online. (WSWS)
Also arrested was Bruno Divakara, a social media activist, who was accused of aiding and abetting Edirisuriya by putting her video on his YouTube channel. He was accused of “inciting religious disharmony among various communities” by publishing the video. (WSWS)
Both Edirisuriya and Divakara have been ordered to be held until June 21 by the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court.
Some Buddhis monks called for Edirisuriya’s arrest after her remarks were made public. Ven. Balangoda Kassapa Thera, referring to certain Christians, said, “people of the Born Again gang are behind insulting the Buddhist culture, and that the law should apply to all of them” in the country. (UCA News)
He also said that, “those who made defaming statements on the character of Buddha must be openly punished.” (WSWS)
Edirisuriya claims that she had no intention of insulting Buddhism and publicly apologized for the comments she had made in the video.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe on May 29 instructed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles “to establish a special police unit to investigate into and act on persons or groups that disrupt religious harmony.” (WSWS)
Catholic leaders in Sri Lanka have urged calm in the wake of this and other recent incidents.
Father Cyril Gamini, media spokesman of the Archdiocese of Colombo said at a press conference on 31 May, 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 gain power.” (UCA News)
He added that, “The Church condemns the recent statements denigrating Lord Buddha and Buddhist religious practices. It is the responsibility of the CID to conduct a wide-ranging 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 some 22 million people. 70.2 per cent of Sri Lankans identify as Theravadin Buddhists according to 2012 census data, with 12.6 per cent claiming Hinduism as their religion, 9.7 per cent identifying as Muslim, and 7.4 per cent identifying as Christians. Buddhism is afforded many special privileges under Sri Lanka’s constitution, although the constitution still stipulates freedom of religion for all citizens.
Sri Lanka arrests stand-up comedian for insulting Buddhism (UCA News)
Sri Lankan comedienne Natasha Edirisooriya arrested: An attack on freedom of speech (WSWS)
Jayani Natasha alleged of insulting Buddhism arrested at the airport (Colombo Page)
Church cautions against polarization attempts in Sri Lanka (UCA News)
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