Mobitel and the Bodu Bala Sena

The BBS ringing tone on Mobitel had recorded nearly  a 1000 buys as of 9am, 27 March

The BBS ringing tone on Mobitel had recorded nearly a 1000 buys as of 9am, 27 March

Racist and hate groups are supposed to remain on the sidelines of society, screaming their subversive rhetoric in order to appeal to the seedier side of the collective conscience. Their funding usually comes from shadowy sources with powerful interests and money to be made from destruction and chaos. All of them invariably will remain behind the scenes, after all  who in the name of God would want to be publicly associated with hatred?

Mobitel, apparently. Mobitel the subsidiary of the publicly listed Sri Lanka Telecom. One of the country’s largest telecom services companies, and one of the most visible corporates in Sri Lanka. Mobitel has been openly funding hate groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Sinhala Ravaya. Evidence of Mobitel support for extremists first emerged at a BBS rally held in Panadura when it was announced that a ringing tone available for download via Mobitel would help fund the organization’s racist activity. Images (later published on Sanjaya Senanayake’s facebook profile, who by the way i must thank for much of the research for this post) revealed Mobitel advertisements in a newsletter of the Sinhala Ravaya. Uncharacteristically, Mobitel’s Facebook group has been avoiding all contact and even deleting posts of protests against this, for now, their once dynamic social media team seems to have slunk under a rock.

Widely known for their extremist nationalism, these groups have already attacked mosques, churches and even other Buddhist temples conducted illegal raids, spread fear and paranoia and generally taken a very loud and belligerent stance toward the country’s minorities. After initially targeting the Halal certification of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (which was peacefully resolved thanks in part to the ACJU’s good sense), the BBS has now turned its attention on the Hijab an element of Muslim culture that in some form or the other has been present in this country for centuries, and always in peaceful coexistence with other communities. The emergence of apparent large scale corporate backing for their activity is worrying to say the least.

A quick look at the ownership of Sri Lanka Telecom reveals some unsurprising and surprising details. Unsurprisingly you would find that the majority of the shares (49.5%) is owned by the government, 5.5% by the general public. This is kind of well known. SLT was fully owned by the government until it was partially privatized some years ago. But surprisingly, if you’d forgotten this little detail, shares owned by the Japanese NTT Communications were then sold to Treasury and Global Telecommunication Holdings N.V. This is supposedly an entity based in Netherlands but is actually a fully owned subsidiary of Usaha Tegas Sdn. Bhd  an investment firm based in Malaysia. Usaha Tegas also owns Maxis a Malaysian telecom giant. Sandip Das and Chan Chee Beng from Usaha Tegas serve on the boards of both Maxis and SLT.

It is rather ironic that Mobitel’s second biggest shareholder and the lifeline of its management and capital is based in a Muslim country, while at the same time it funds extremist right wing organizations pursuing strong racist agendas against Muslims and other minorities in Sri Lanka. If the BBS is anything to go by, Mobitel’s senior management probably has no issue with this glaring inconsistency in its moral standpoint. Last week I heard an Australian-Sri Lankan citizen and a member of the BBS, Chanaka Perera, comment on help received from a monk based in Malaysia to the BBS whilst at the same time condemning Muslims as a whole purely based on his views on Saudi Arabia. Hate is deaf to reason they say.

Mobitel has so far shown a complete lack of responsibility in responding to the thousands of calls for it to stop funding these extremist groups. Its continued silence is a gross violation of its public accountability. Cricketers like Mahela Jayawardene are brand ambassadors for Mobitel. I respect Mahela, and as a public figure and a person of influence being sponsored by Mobitel he should step up and say something about this.

Sri Lanka just came out of a 30 year war. I’m just saying that out loud you know, in case anyone has forgotten. The government so far seems to be perfectly happy to allow the BBS and its affiliated groups to carry on with their campaign of hate, although voices of dissent have begun to emerge; you know things are getting really out of hand when Mervyn Silva himself stands up for what is right. The president has been strong worded on the racist issue, but so far all of that has been lip service and none of it directed at any specific racist organizations. The all powerful Government of Sri Lanka has failed to take any concrete steps to stop this spread of hate and violence. Meanwhile, the Police is cooperating with extremists, and now government owned companies are openly funding them.

UPDATE: Mobitel has since issued a highly inadequate response.

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14 comments
  1. Ahmed said:

    I am sure this is an idea of a local panditha marketing manager.

    Any way SLT/Mobitel is controlled by Maxis of Malaysia. And the major shareholder of Maxis is Saudi Telecom.

    So rest assured each time a fundamentalist Bodu Bala Sena guy downloads the tune a few cents goes to Saudi Telecom and probably comes back to Sri Lanka to sacrifice cows.

    • Whacko said:

      yeah that’s quote interesting, 25% is owned by Saudi Telecom.

  2. I can’t say I’m surprised. There’s been a gross defiance of logic when it comes to the BBS and Sinhala Ravaya propoganda. It’s terrifying that such obvious hate speech is being ignored and even promoted by the masses.

  3. okay said:

    How about a group of concerned citizens send out an e-mail to the directors?, and to Usaha Tegas/ Maxis?.
    Could be fruitful.

    good job with the research, interesting stuff!.

  4. Good work.

    In general Mobitel is a funnel for Government cash, they donate heavily to state and semi-state projects.

  5. Meaning that Mobitel funds the Government, not the other way around.

  6. You know what’s funny, under Mobitel’s ‘Terms of Use’, there’s the following clause, under ‘Unacceptable Use and Member Conduct’:

    You agree to abide by all applicable laws in all jurisdictions. By way of example, without limitation, you agree not to, in respect of Mobitel’s websites and its related websites:

    (1) submit, upload or transmit any material that is defamatory, abusive, threatening, obscene, indecent, infringing or unlawful in any jurisdiction;

    Shame, they’re not subject to their own legalese.

    • Whacko said:

      Or, they don’t consider said material to be “defamatory, abusive, threatening, obscene, indecent, infringing or unlawful in any jurisdiction”. Which IMO is a far scarier idea

  7. dev said:

    “Racist and hate groups” …. Have a look at your own articles such as “The Dark Side of Vesak” … you are a racist yourself. Correct yourself first, then others.

    • Whacko said:

      ‘The Dark Side of Vesak’ was written purely from an economic perspective and what highly costly vesak celebrations could mean to the country.

      I myself participated in organizing a dansala as I have also mentioned in the post. It had no hate speech against Buddhism or Buddhists, it wasn’t even calling for the non-celebration of Vesak (quite the contrary).

      Just because a Muslim wrote it is no reason at all to call it ‘racist’. And FYI, if any non Muslim has any legitimate concern about Islam or Muslim states I am more than glad to listen and do hope they write about it in a rational manner. Discussion is good.

      • dev said:

        Then just because the song is from Bodu Bala Sena there is no reason at all to call it “racist.” It has no hate speech against Islam or Muslims. ‘The Dark Side of Vesak’ is not the only anti-Buddhist article you have written, there are several more, including your snide remarks on your twitter account. Admit first that you are a racist and then only will people support you.

  8. asoka silva said:

    bodu BALU SENA are a disgrace to buddhism and by attacking minorities are helping the cause of the LTTE in depicting sinhalese as racists! We must not forget that the muslim countries stood by us ! I have good suspicions that the BALU sena with the vulgar man in robes is funded by the LTTE diaspora! Buddha never preached aggression and racial hatred!
    a national shame- must be banned!

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