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SRI LANKA: 26 year-old story writer harassed by the Church

October 11, 2000

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

AHRC UA Index: 001011 11 October 2000
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UA 37/00: 26 year-old story writer harassed by the Church

SRI LANKA - Denial of Freedom of Expression
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The Controversy over SL Catholic Church Action on the short Story, Mary who called Maria, by SL writer Manjula Wediwardene.

Following is some information about a controversy in Sri Lanka about a short story. The author, Mr. Mangula Wediwarne, 26, has had his books confiscated and may face criminal charges filed by a Catholic priest. A sample letter and contact details are provided so that you can write to the Sri Lankan Attorney-General, who is currently decided whether to try the case. The translation of the controversial short story is included at the end of this appeal for your information.

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STATEMENT BY AHRC

Twenty Six Year-Old Short-Story Writer Harassed by the Church

The last incident in which the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka had a problem about a book is well known throughout the world. It was about Tissa Balasuriya¡¯s book Mary and Human Liberation. The dispute, initiated by a local Bishop Malcom Ranjit, led to the author¡¯s excommunication by the Vatican. The excommunication led to the greatest protest the Church has faced on such an issue and, within a year and to everybody¡¯s surprise, the excommunication was lifted. Usually such an about-face may not happen even after a century and certainly not within the author¡¯s lifetime. As the internet has become more powerful today than other forms of networking (for which Catholic church has mastery), the truth now has a greater chance of winning.

Tissa Balasuriya was then over seventy years and for over four decades a priest. This time the victim the church has chosen, Mangula Wediwarne, is very much younger and a layman. The book is not a theological work, but rather a book of short stories. It is written in Sinhala, unlike Balasuriya¡¯s English book. Neither Cardinal Ratsinga nor even Bishop Malcom Ranjit is at the forefront of this Campaign. The ghostwriter in Balasuriya¡¯s excommunication campaign, Manel Aberatne of Catholic Messenger is also not the spokes- person this time. It is one Cyril Anthony, a relatively unknown priest, who is the front man.

The forum of debate is not in church circles. Cyril Anthony has gone straight to the police and to the civil courts. The short story writer was arrested and bailed out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CID). His books were confiscated by the same agency. He may face criminal charges, though what the charges will be is still unknown. There is a civil case pending in district court, of which said Cyril Anthony is the complainant.

Who authorized Cyril Anthony and by what process the book has been found faulty are still secrets. All that we have to go by are Cyril Anthony¡¯s claims and few homilies against the short story preached by some priests to their Sunday audience. Mangula says he has given copies of the book to many priests and nuns who have told him they find nothing wrong in the book and what is more that they appreciate the young author¡¯s attempt to understand and express the problems of the young people.

For the author, accusations and harassment have come as a surprise. He has never thought and does not even think now that there is anything wrong in the book. He says he was frightened when he was called to the CID. However, the CID officers treated him politely and further told him he has been arrested on orders and that the officers did not even know what this was about. He is himself a Catholic. He is most upset because his mother is frightened that the police may do some harm to him. This is not surprising in a country that has now acquired second place in the world for disappearances and is also known for endemic torture.

Local newspapers have risen to defend the author and to condemn the censorship and repression he has faced. Many lengthy articles have been written, including one entitled Do Not Shoot The Author. BBC Sinhala Service discussed the issue and it has become quite a hot topic. The Church as once again walked into a land mine.

Two questions have come to the forefront: (i) what is wrong with the book and (ii) has the Church a write to censor creative writings? As for the first, Cyril Anthony told BBC Sinhala Service that one of the short stories in the book was defamatory of Jesus¡¯ mother, Mary. He further said that the short story denies the church¡¯s doctrine of Immaculate Conception. When Tissa Balasuriya was accused of similar things, he point blank asked, ¡°kindly show where in my book I have said such thing. What page, what paragraphs are you referring to?¡± These questions were never answered. This time it has become even harder to answer such questions. The short story clearly refers to two local characters called Mary and Joseph de Silva; that is all the connection there is to the defamatory claims. The only specific reference to Mary the mother of Jesus is one of utmost respect:
¡°[The statue of the] Virgin Mary was looking at her [Maria de Silva] with merciful eyes open intently, in measureless sympathy, limitless pity. A tear for Maria, bursting from the eye of Virgin Mary cascaded down the light blue and white paint applied on the clay which had made [the statue of] Virgin Mary.¡±

The second set of questions is even more damning. Are creative writings to be judged as theological treatises? What authority does the Church hold over creative writers? Is Church dogma a criterion to go by in judging short stories? What is the Church¡¯s position on censorship?

These last questions are particularly important in Sri Lanka, which has an entrenched tradition of censorship for several decades now. Many prominent world organisations have condemned the extremely excessive use of censorship in Sri Lanka. It is sad to see that the Catholic Church has begun use censorship in an even worse (more trivial) form than that practiced by the state. Ironically, this comes at a time Pope John Paul II is speaking loudest on human rights. Recently some Chinese people were canonized for their courage to stand up to repression. In an historic statement made for Peace Day 1999, the Pope stated:

The year 1998 has marked the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration was intentionally linked to the United Nations Charter, since it shares a common inspiration. As its fundamental premise, it affirms that the recognition of the innate dignity of all members of the human family, as also the equality and inalienability of their rights, is the foundation of liberty, justice and peace in the world. All the subsequent international documents on human rights declare this truth anew, recognizing and affirming that human rights stem from the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.

The Universal Declaration is clear: it acknowledges the rights which it proclaims but does not confer them, since they are inherent in the human person and in human dignity. Consequently, no one can legitimately deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these rights, since this would do violence to their nature. All human beings, without exception, are equal in dignity. For the same reason, these rights apply to every stage of life and to every political, social, economic and cultural situation. Together they form a single whole, directed unambiguously towards the promotion of every aspect of the good of both the person and society.¡±

When the book of Salmon Rushdie was censored there were loud cries of protest and accusation of fundamentalism. How does all this compare with the Church¡¯s attitude to censorship in Sri Lanka?

The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the repression unleashed on this young and innocent writer as a fundamental violation of rights of the author and the rights of the readers. It also sees the action as inhumane and unworthy of an organisation like the Catholic Church.

The responsibility for this action clearly lies with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church as the priest Cyril Anthony¡¯s action has been seen by the public as an action by the Church and Church pulpits have been used to condemn the short story. We call upon the Church authorities to stop these human rights violations and stop acting against creative writers.

We extend our sympathy and solidarity to the young creative writer and call upon all to support him by buying his book, and assisting him with whatever costs he has to bear because of these actions. Above all we call for people to take even more interest than in the Tissa Balasuriya case, as this is an even more blatant violation.

AHRC, October 11, 2000


SUGGESTED ACTION

The Attorney-General of Sri Lanka is currently deciding whether the criminal charges against Mr. Mangula Wediwarne should be heard or rejected. Please write to convince him to do the latter. Sample letter and contact details are provided below

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Mr. Kamalasabayson

I am writing to urge you to declare that the complaint by Fr. Cyril Anthony of any crime relating to the book \"Mary Called Maria\" is unfounded, and to clear the name of the author of this short story, Mr. Mangula Wediwarne.

It is my belief that the arrest of the author, seizure of copies of his book and his summons before a criminal court are violations of the human rights of Mr. Manjula Wediwardene, as a person and as a writer. The actions against him have violated international law on human rights and the constitutional rights guaranteed under the Sri Lankan Constitution. Sri Lanka is a state party to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and has also signed the second protocol to this covenant. The rights that are violated in particular are those enshrined in article 19 of the ICCPR, and the actions to date taken against the author and his work may also contavene articles 9, 17 and 18.

Please reject these criminal charges and enable Mr. Wediwarne to go about his creative work in peace, according to the basic standards of human rights.

sincerely,

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SEND LETTERS TO

Mr. K.C. Kamalasabayason
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Hullsdorf
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA

And please forward a copy to <ua@ahrchk.org>


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CONTROVERSIAL SHORT STORY

MARIA CALLED MARY (TRANSLATION)
A SHORT STORY BY MANJULY WEDIWARDENA

Just now was concluded our sexual intercourse which ended the virginity of Maria.

I continue lying upon her. though my body is wet with sweat and our bodies pasted to one another. My penis is on the retreat in her vaginal canal. She is drying the sweat oh my back thumping It, warm breath emanating.

Maria, at once topples me over and kneeling on the bed with her arms folded, begins to sob. I turn my face down. My dyes close and darkness envelopes me.

I saw historical dream. In that dream there. was embroiled a strange dream.

It was Pharao period in Rome. My torso was deposited in a prison where prisoners were imprisoned. About twenty prisoners Were in various stances of trance within that limited space which was entombed by four massive stone walls. In one place is the groan of a person whose respiratory system was weak. In. another place is the. '1bah bah\" sound of a hymn to Jebovah. In another place is a cough in another is weeping. Occasionally a sob-arises and fades away..

Though I was listening to the admixture of these sounds I hung on with my eyes the small. apurture at the top of the left Wall. Sun light was seeping bit by bit through that aperture. My eyes which were soaking in the darkness: were steep bound by that small light.

That was the birth of that strange dream.

Stars were glittering in the cloudless dear night sky. A star which began to attract to itself my attention that was devided among the multitude of stars to burst out of the sky. When that reached the proportion of the moon1 it began to develop a tail which lengthened gradually. The tail end which began to cl6se up gradually made itself into a noose, fell on my neck and began to tighten gradually. I being mortally afraid, shouted out with all my might but no sound escaped from my mouth.

When a prisoner's foot tell on my head opening my eyes, I was still choacking my peck with my own hands and screaming silently. bolts of light were streaming though the small aperture. That light travelled about tonding every thing in that prison.

In among the prisoners was a leader. He was a handsome youth well known for his ability to interpret dreams. Joseph got the opportunity to come to Egypt as he was sold by his brothers7in a place called Donath, for twenty lucre. As he made an honest fool of himself by refusing the constant pleas of the wife of Pothiper, the Door-Keeper, Chief Sentry of King Pharao, to have sex with her he was imprisoned.

Joseph rose from where he sat, stood Majestically in front of me and addressed me in a deep voice.
\"Tell me frankly the dream you had and I will interpr6t it for you¡± .

With a shaking voice, I offered him my dream. He closed his eyes, raising his lands up for a moment serenely, lowered them, opened his eyes and spoke.

\"A son will be born begotten by you. He will certain go to the extreme of Atheism. Therefore him Anti Christ.

The synthesis of emotions which were. in the inner hearts of the prisoners were painting their faces. Some of them who broke loose from their concentration, rose to their feet wherever they were.

\"He will at first be your death-noose. Then he will spread the danger to-the others. Whatever attempt be made, no body can forestall this birth¡± said-the interpreter of dreams in a calm, collected voice. As these words escaped his tips, all the prisoners rose. Then the began to circle around me elliptically. I was shocked. I lost consciousness in fear. In short called God.

Slowly the human circle began to shrink. All the eyes were reverted on my penis. All of them in one motion set tip on me reach one struggling sholder to sholder, waged a deathly struggle either to touch my penis on uproot it. I fell on the ground and struggled.

In the meantime some one who-came from behind, put his hand in between my legs and clung on to my man symbol. I began to writh like anearth worm, screaming myself horse. This screaming and struggling would have continued until my head struck the bed head. My hand was well wrapped around my penis.

Maria was kneeling before the prayer box all nude. Virgin Mary was looking at tier with merciful eyes open intently, in measureless sympathy, limitless pity, A tear for Maria, bursting from the eye of Virgin Mary cascaded down-the-light blue and white paint applied on the clay which had made Virgin May. Maria saw none of them. She was sweeping the ground with her eyes, with her fingers inter twined. Her lips trembled in a prayer. Her long brown hair woven in a single plait falls down her solder blades, down past the golden fine that bisects her buttocks. Her slim waist enhances the charm of her broad hip.

I witness a close up of the beauty of her hind quarters. I recline against the bed head with my eyes on her. I lighted a cigarette and filled my lungs with a long draft of smoke.

I feel somebody tapping me on my sholder. I turn. A body covered with long black hair. That is Satan. The only item of cloth on that body is a suspender. He has in his hand a tight wrapped slim rod. He asks for a light. I hold out my cigarette. He lights his rod, returns my Cigarette and reclines in the easy chair next to Maria and turns to me. He gives me a comradely toothy grin. My thoughts are wandering. I more my gaze away and turn it upwards.

I hear the Sound of tiles rattling in the roof and then two hands removing the tites. A saintly figure descends with pure white wings spreaded, through that pepingl in the root. The whole body is covered with snow white feathers. That figure with feathers wrapped around Penguine fashion and standing at attention next to the nude body of Maria, I easily recognize as the Archangle Gabriel. The war of righteousness between the angles of light and powers of darkness was slowly emerging.

Satan stands or his head on the weaving of the easy chair. He addresses Maria in a coarse and gross thundering groan.

\"My dear Maria, you are the blessed in among all the women. I like you. My whole hearted unlimited appreciation is for your.

I order that the unquel, powerful creative that would be born off your blessed womb be named \"Anti Christ\". That is because this creative will take the world to the summit of sin and save this world.\"

Satan sits back oh the chair with a pleasant smile on his face. Maria taints and falls I cannot go up to Maria. I am forzen to the bed.

Gabriel puts his hand into a clump of feathers, pulls but a phial and sprinkles water on \"Maria's face. Her eyes dance. She wakes up and looks around. Immediately she jumps into the lap of Gabriel and in a sob asks \"Oh! Gracious Arch angle Gabriel, Why do you allow ire, who was so loyal td the rather, to fall into this dismal abiss?\"

The face of the Archangel, with Maria in his lap, has turned red with Unknown emotions that were not there from eternity: He is deeply-troubled. The rythm of the fluttering winds evidences his discomfort.

My nude body is awash in a small sweat. I feel the cracking of my lips, my mouth and my thoat.

Instantly Satan jumps forward, takes up Gabriel and dashes him on the ground. Gabriel himself, who was thus far steeped in a most deep ecstacy, is aflame in a burming anger, gets up and charges up to Satan. The war of righteousness breaks out. The two of them roll in a single bundie.

Satan takes in his mouth the legs of Gabriel wrings them together and poking them in is mouth, begins chewing them and swallowing them. Blood oozes from his mouth. Gabriel, mad with paid, gets hold of the staking legs of Satan, puts them in his mouth, munches them with an effort and beams to swallow them. The two of them devouring each other in this fashion is lost inside the two of them and disappear.

Though called her Maria her real name is Mary Jacintha de Silva. Her maiden name Harmer is deleted and her husband's name whose name was Joseph de Silva has been supplanted in the place other surname.

I first saw her in the cold of last December. I was reclining on a back bench in the Church of Her Lady Garbus, waiting fore girl friend.

That was a Friday. As it was not an hour of a bustling crowd, Maria's long prayer serinity had captured my attention. The person who was on her knees behind her, was her mother-in-law as I were to learn later.

She rose from her prayer. Her innocent pointed face, was wrapped in a black veil I was watching how she touched thrice the feet of Lady Girbus and kissed them. Then she turned without paying any head to her Mother in law and walked to the church door. A strong draft of December coming from the direction of the alter carried her veil in it and deposited it at my feet. I bentdown and took it in my hand and waited all the time tendering it to her as he was walking towards rile.

That was the first time our eyes met.

Though it was close to two years since she was married, she remained a virgin. Those who were unaware of the truth about the sexual capacity of Joseph looked on her as a barren woman. As she was deeply devoted to God, she didn't mind the disgrace she was receiving. She had the strength of character to remain so. She remained silently bearing up everything as a true child of God, even while her mother-in-law herded her to the Church of Lady Girbus she never betrayed Joseph. Her sole existence depended solely on her devotion and the word of God.

Her husband Joseph had no world outside God. She says that his eating and drinking and all his activities are initiated with a prayer. She says may be because the word of God is that at marriage two people become one person. Joseph bears her deep love. There may be some truth in it. Who can disregard such devotion. The other things is that disregarding God's word is mortal sin.

I also respected her devotion.
I made room for her love loved her beautiful body
I loved her beautiful body
From that time onward I called Mary Jacintha \"Maria\"
Our first free date occured after a long lapse of time. A person will accidentally get such an ecstatic moment. I who got such an opportunity is really fortunate. That is because, the whole heaven unfolded before me.

The two of us were left to ourselves in the Mansion of the Maria. She was ecstatic at my sight. The amorous rightne which so far was contained within her began to plush over me, first of all she kissed every inch of my face endlessly, in madness.

As the first stage drew to a close, I made her who was painting and gasping, sit comfortably on the bed and murmered in her ear. ¡°To make today an ever memorable day you must obey one and only one condition.

\"Now, now, don't be afraid. Don't be shy. This is a condition even God approves of¡¯.

Without a word, she wrapped her right hand around my waist and rested her head on my shoulder. I heard the amorous breaths struggling within her. \"From now onwards, the two of us should be totally nude. Do you agree?¡±

Maria , was flustered and asked .me \"The whole day? Even while eating- and drinking?\"

\"Yes!, First of all I want a cup of tea. Even that should be made under that condition.\"

Thought released those words lightly she was perturbed by that instant proposal. I tried to pacify her.

\"Whom do you love most in this world¡± I asked petting her right hand.

She was silently studying me. for a few minutes and then tried to struggle out of her dilemma saying \"You\"

\"No! you love God most¡± I was trying to lead her to the climax of my proposal gradually \"God doesn't approve of these unethical cloths. That is why he created man nude. That is why God himself is nude. He likes, nudity. Therefore we too must respect nudity. To please God. We will spend the day under that condition\"

As I was speaking thus, I groped in among looks, eye, ticks, buttons and zips in Maria's dressing and undid them. She was as obedient as a rabbit kid and red in shyness. In the end, the angle like beauty of Maria began to bloom in my view.

Thus Maria got used to nudity.

Her heart had blossomed out even to walk to the kitchen nude: I undressed myself and lighting a cigarette. I reclined o6to the bed head. In a moment she entered the room with a cup of tea in a tray. My smiling eyes dipped into her body. Having placed in the tea tray on the teapoy, she jumped instantly onto the bed, grabbed the pillow lovering my penis and dashed it on me.

Waves of laughter burst on rever berated in the air. The room was emersed in a sea of laughter and calmed down.

I get down from the bed and walk upto her. I carry her with both hands and palce her gingerly on the bed.

\"What shall we do now\" asks Maria-making an attempt to smile.

\"If I were to have a baby and Joseph gets to know it¡¦¡¦.¡±A fear in her is pieced by a flickering happiness.

I bend down and kiss her forehead. Maria, without a word with her eyes rivetted on to my eyes begs with her eyes for a reply.

\"You tell Joseph that the child is God's!\"

(1998)
TRANSLATED BY RANBANDA SENVIRATHNA
Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
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UA001011
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.