SC reserves judgement on petitioner's plea to have all religions covered

by Wasantha Ramanayake, Lanka Daily News, Nov 16, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- The Supreme Court yesterday reserved the Judgment in the Fundamental Rights application against the sale of merchandised Buddha images filed by Ven. Daranagama Kusaladhamma Thera.

Counsel Prashantha Lal de Alwis for the petitioner submitted that the petitioner was seeking a court order that would compel the respondents to effectively deal with any commercial item bearing religious symbols belonging not only to Buddhism but also to every other religion.

He submitted that the use of any symbol belonging to any religion on any commercial item was a punishable offence under the Penal Code.

The Bench comprised Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and Justices Nihal Jayasinghe and Raja Fernando.

Senior State Counsel Nihal Jayawardane submitted that fourth respondent, the Foreign Minister had canvassed in Buddhist countries in the region to ban such items and the campaign had been readily received.

The counsel submitted that the UNESCO in one of its recent Executive Committee Meetings had unanimously adopted a resolution to ban commercialised religious symbols. He submitted that the resolution was sponsored by Sri Lanka and co-sponsored by 15 countries in the region.

He submitted that the IGP and the Director General of Customs the first and the second respondents had practicle limitations to deal with such offenders.

He submitted that certain offensive articles were not declared at the entry points. He further submitted that the Police was only aware of a candle resembling that of a Buddha Statue after the case was filed and it was out of sale when the Police had raided the place.

The Senior State Counsel submitted that consequent to the filing of the case, the Police had apprehended several persons who were in possession of such offensive materials.

He submitted that the AG was contemplating to bring in necessary legal amendments to effectively deal with such situations.

Petitioner Ven. Daranagama Kusaladhamma Thera, the Chief Prelate of the Sri Sambhodhi Viharaya, Colombo 7, cited the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Director General of the Customs (DGC) and the Attorney General as the respondents.

The petitioner stated that merchandised Buddha images such as swim wear, candles and CDs were available in the market.

The Buddhists of the country in general were gravely provoked and emotionally turbulent since they were unable to react legally.

The petitioner argued that the first and second respondents, the IGP and the Customs Director General were empowered under the Penal Code and Customs Ordinance, respectively, to detain such commercial products available in the market and to prohibit the import.

He contended that inaction of the respondents were in violation of the petitioner's freedom of thought and conscious and religion and the freedom to practise it.

Prashantha Lal de Alwis with Binara Gunasekera and Amal Randeniya instructed by Maheshee de Alwis appeared for the petitioner.

Senior state counsel Nihal Jayawardane appeared for the respondents.