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Sri Lanka Bomb Attacks Update – 290 Confirmed Killed, 24 Arrested

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Eight coordinated explosions that tore through churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday have killed at least 290 people and injured another 500, in what officials have called a “brand-new type of terrorism.”

Police have arrested 24 people in connection with the suicide bombs, the worst violence the South Asian island has seen since its bloody civil war ended 10 years ago.
A ninth improvised explosive device (IED) was defused near the capital’s Bandaranaike International Airport on Sunday evening, according to an Air Force spokesman. The blasts appears to have targeted tourism hotspots, as well as churches, in a bid to gain maximum global attention.
Foreign nationals are among the dead, including five British citizens, two of whom held dual US-UK nationality, three Indians, two Australians, two Chinese cousins, one person from the Netherlands, two Turkish citizens and one Portuguese person.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the “terrorist incident” was carried out by those following “religious extremism.”
On Sunday evening it was revealed in a leaked memo that police had been warned of a potential attack by the Nations Thawahid Jaman (NTJ), an Islamist group led by Mohomad Saharan. It is unclear whether the information related to Sunday’s bombings.
The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has said the intelligence was not shared with him and other ministers. Sajith Premadasa, minister of housing construction and cultural affairs, said the officers had acted with “negligence and incompetence.”
Analysts, however, have cautioned against rushing to conclusions. Dhruva Jaishankar, a fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at Brookings India, said the NTJ is a little-known group, which has previously defaced Buddhist statues, and was unlikely to have the capacity or sophistication to execute an attack like Sunday’s without assistance.
While there is a known transnational Islamist presence in places such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, Jaishankar said little is known about Islamic radicalism in Sri Lanka and that it was “premature” to speculate on which organizations might have been involved.
Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, accounting for less than 10% of the total population of 21.4 million. According to census data, 70.2% of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhist, 12% Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, and 7.4% Christian.
It is estimated that 82% of Sri Lankan Christians are Roman Catholic.
A social media blackout has been enforced as the authorities try to contain the violence and establish who carried out the attacks and why.

How it unfolded

The first wave of attacks struck during packed Easter Sunday services.
More than 1,000 people had come to the one of the explosion sites, St. Sebastian’s Church, where 102 people were killed, according to Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo.
As the Easter services got underway at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, the bombers detonated their devices. The bombs blew out the tiled roofs of churches, killing worshipers. Images showed bloodied pews, broken glass and plumes of smoke.
Courtesy CNN

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Just In: Bayelsa Guber Election: Court Annuls APC’s Participation

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The Federal High Court, Yenagoa, on Thursday declared that the All Progressives Congress (APC) does not have a governorship candidate in the forthcoming election in Bayelsa State.

This development is coming two days to the election.

The court was presided over by Justice Jane Inyang.

The court declaration, on Thursday, was part of its judgement in a case filed by Heineken Lokpobiri, one of the APC governorship aspirants.

Mr Lokpobiri, a former minister of state for agriculture, had approached the court, asking it to declare him, and not David Lyon, the authentic candidate of the APC.

“The court pronounced that the governorship primary conducted by the APC in Bayelsa state was not done in compliance with the guidelines and the constitution of the party, and, therefore, the party has no candidate,” Mr Lokpobiri’s lawyer, Fitzgerald Olorogun, told reporters immediately after the court ruling.

A shocked Mr Olorogun said the court declaration was not part of their prayers. “It’s strange,” he said.

Asked what was the next option for his client, Mr Olorogun said “We’ll do the needful. But for now, the pronouncement of the court is that APC has no candidate.”

There was heavy police presence within and outside the court premises. The main highway way leading to the court was barricaded by the police. Visitors, including journalists, were frisked before they were allowed to enter the court building.

Mr Lokpobiri, before now, has been urging the people of Bayelsa to vote for the APC in the November 16 election, despite his court case against Mr Lyon and the party.

“I’m a very strong member of APC and I came today to formally tell our chairman and to speak to Nigerians, in particular, the electorate in Bayelsa that all of them should vote for APC regardless of what happens in the court case in which judgment is slated for Nov. 14, 2019,” the former minister said in Abuja after a courtesy visit on the national chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole.

“I told my supporters even before I came here that no matter what happened, I will remain in APC having served as a minister under this administration.

“There is no way the outcome of the governorship primaries will make me leave APC. We are working and campaigning at different levels.

“I always advise that anybody that is grieved, the only place to go is the court.

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Senate’s Hate Speech Bill: Atiku Abubakar Speaks

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A former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, has cautioned Nigerian senators against moves to pass a bill criminalising purported hate speech.

The bill being sponsored by Sabi Abdullahi of the All Progressives Congress is targeted at punishing anyone found guilty of spreading “misinformation.”

The bill also prescribed death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading a falsehood that led to the death of another person.

But civic groups have been critical about the bill because of its narrow and unclear definition of what constitutes hate speech.

The advocates argued that the Senate’s interpretation of ‘hate speech’ would be at odds with the Nigerian Constitution if the bill becomes law as designed. The Constitution protects the rights to unhindered speech, expression and association.

Mr Abubakar aligned with those who believe the constitutional safeguards for free speech should be strengthened rather than undermined by lawmakers and other politicians in power.

The former vice-president and main opposition candidate at the 2019 presidential election said the freedom of speech and other key elements of civil liberties which Nigerians enjoyed between 1999 and 2015 should not be taken away by the current administration.

“It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests,” Mr Abubakar said in an emailed statement signed by his spokesperson, Paul Ibe.

Efforts to regulate the media has been keenly considered and publicly pushed by politicians since Muhammadu Buhari assumed power in 2015.

Mr Buhari has a history of brutal repression from his military era in the 1980s, a label from which he remained unflinching.

The president has repeatedly told the country that his government will continue to ignore rights in favour of national security.

Some of his appointees, especially information minister Lai Mohammed, have insisted Nigerians’ free speech will be curbed.

Mr Mohammed said social media has become a tool of irresponsibility amongst elements determined to foment chaos in the country. He has equally overseen imposition of heavy fines on broadcast stations over alleged hate speech on their platforms.

There were efforts to push a variation of the current hate speech bill through the parliament in 2015, but it failed amidst nationwide uproar.

 

The reintroduced version contained essentially the same fundamentals and Nigerians have vowed to resist it as they did four years ago.

Read Mr Abubakar’s full statement below:

Atiku Abubakar wishes to sound a note of caution to those now toying with the idea of an Anti Hate Speech Bill, with punishment for supposed Hate Speech to be death by hanging. The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to Freedom of Speech.

Atiku urges those behind this Bill to awake to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation, because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms. It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests.

Freedom of Speech was not just bestowed to Nigerians by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), it is also a divine right given to all men by their Creator. History is littered with the very negative unintended consequences that result when this God given right is obstructed by those who seek to intimidate the people rather than accommodate them.

We should be reminded that history does not repeat itself. Rather, men repeat history. And often, to disastrous consequences.

Nigeria presently has too many pressing concerns. We are now the world headquarters for extreme poverty as well as the global epicentre of out-of-school children. Our economy is smaller than it was in 2015, while our population is one of the world’s fastest growing. We have retrogressed in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, from the position we held four years ago, and our Human Development Indexes are abysmally low.

It therefore begs the question: should we not rather make laws to tackle these pressing domestic challenges, instead of this Bill, which many citizens consider obnoxious?

Again, Atiku cautions that we must prioritise our challenges ahead of the whims and caprices of those who do not like to hear the inconvenient truth. Stop this folly and focus on issues that matter to Nigerians.

Paul Ibe

Premium Times

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Sowore: Buhari’s Govt Insecure, Paranoid – Soyinka

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The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, has called on civil society organisations to strategize and coordinate their responses to attacks on human rights by state agents under President Muhammadu Buhari.

Mr Soyinka, in his statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, reacted to the attack on protesters on Tuesday in Abuja for demanding the release of Omoyele Sowore by the State Security Service.

“The sporadic, uncoordinated responses as in the case of Omoyele Sowore, the absence of a solid strategy, ready to be activated against any threat — these continue to enable these agencies in their mission to enthrone a pattern of conduct that openly scoffs at the role of the judiciary in national life,” the don said.

He condemned “the level of arrogance” by agents of the state under President Buhari, saying it “has crossed even the most permissive thresholds.”

“As I remarked from the onset, this is an act of government insecurity and paranoia that merely defeats its real purpose,” he said.

Read Soyinka’s full statement below…

SOWORE, HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW

It should become abundantly clear by now that Civil Society organisations, committed to the entrenchment of the Rule of Law and the defence of fundamental human rights must come together. This is not a new cry. They must meet, debate, and embark on a binding pact of tactical responses whenever these two pillars of civilized society are besieged by the demolition engines of state security agencies. The sporadic, uncoordinated responses as in the case of Omoyele Sowore, the absence of a solid strategy, ready to be activated against any threat — these continue to enable these agencies in their mission to enthrone a pattern of conduct that openly scoffs at the role of the judiciary in national life. Result? A steady entrenchment of the cult of impunity in the dealings of state with the citizenry – both individuals and organizations. The level of arrogance has crossed even the most permissive thresholds.

It is heart-warming to witness the determined efforts of “Concerned Nigerians” in defence of these rights. Predictably, the ham-fisted response of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) continues to defy the rulings of the court. The weaponry of lies having been exploded in their faces, they resort to what else? Violence! Violence, including, as now reported, the firing of live bullets. Why the desperation? The answer is straightforward: the government never imagined that the bail conditions for Sowore would ever be met. Even Sowore’s supporters despaired. The bail test was clearly set to fail! It took a while for the projection to be reversed, and it left the DSS floundering. That agency then resorted to childish, cynical lies. It claimed that the ordered release was no longer in their hands, but in Sowore’s end of the transfer. The lie being exploded, what next? Bullets of course!

Such a development is not only callous and inhuman, it is criminal. It escalates an already untenable defiance by the state. As I remarked from the onset, this is an act of government insecurity and paranoia that merely defeats its real purpose. And now – bullets? This is no longer comical. Perhaps it is necessary to remind this government of precedents in other lands where, even years after the event, those who trampled on established human rights that generate homicidal impunity are called to account for abuse of power and crimes against humanity. The protests for Sowore’s release go beyond only acts of solidarity, they are manifestations of the judgment and authority of courts of law, under which this nation is supposedly governed. Either it is, or it isn’t. The answer stares us all in the face. The principles that now fall under threat implicate more than one individual under travail. They involve the very entitlement of a nation to lay claim to membership of any democratic, humanized union.

Enough of this charade, nothing more than a display of crude, naked power. Release Omoyele Sowore and save us further embarrassment in the regard of the world. An apology to the nation by the DSS and the judiciary would also not be out of place. It would go some distance in redeeming the image of an increasingly fascistic agency and reduce the swelling tide of public disillusionment.

Let the rule of law reign. Failing that, have the honesty to proclaim the death of ordered society. Then we’ll all know just where we stand.

Wole SOYINKA
WS Foundation for the Humanities
Abeokuta, Ogun State
November 12, 2019

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