Sri Lanka: Govt complicit in violence against Muslims

5th Jul 2019
Sri Lanka: Govt complicit in violence against Muslims

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

 

(AA): Muslims in Sri Lanka are facing abuses, according to a global human rights body, which has accused the Sinhalese government of complicity in excesses against the community.

In a statement this week, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said members of the Muslim community are facing arbitrary arrest and other abuses and called on the government to protect the community from violence.

Following a series of interviews with members of the community, HRW said in a report that ever since the Easter bombings on April 21 this year, “Sri Lankan Muslims have faced an upsurge in violations of their basic rights and assaults and other abuses from Buddhist nationalists.”

“Sri Lankan officials and politicians should stop endorsing, ignoring, or exploiting hate speech and mob violence directed at Muslims by members of the Buddhist clergy and other powerful figures,” HRW’s statement said.

At least 250 people were killed and more than 500 others injured in a series of bombings in April which targeted churches and hotels in and around the capital Colombo when Christians were observing Easter mass.

“The Sri Lankan government has a duty to protect its citizens and prosecute those responsible for the terrible Easter Sunday bombings, but it shouldn’t be punishing the Muslim community for this crime,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asian director at HRW.

“It’s crucial for the authorities to act swiftly to stop mob violence, threats, and discrimination against Muslims,” she added.

HRW noted that since the bombings, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of people under counterterrorism and emergency laws.

Sri Lankan lawyers said their clients “had often been arrested without any credible evidence of terrorist involvement, for reasons including having the Quran or other Arabic literature in their possession during searches”, the HRW statement added.

The rights group said the Sinhalese government-appointed Human Rights Commission had found in May that the government had failed to protect Muslims during communal rioting.

“Police have repeatedly failed to act properly or prosecute perpetrators. For instance, the manager of a Muslim-owned business who was attacked said the police did not make any arrests ‘despite plenty of CCTV footage to identify the perpetrators’,” the statement said.

The rights watchdog observed the complicity of the Sinhalese government and officials in the excesses against the Muslim community.

“Officials have made little effort to discourage public campaigns by religious figures that put the Muslim community at greater risk. On May 15, Gnanarathana Thero, one of Sri Lanka’s most senior Buddhist monks, called for the stoning to death of Muslims and propagated an unfounded allegation that Muslim-owned restaurants put ‘sterilization medicine’ in their food to suppress the majority Sinhalese Buddhist birthrate,” the statement added.

“Government leaders, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect Muslim citizens, have at times appeared to associate themselves with Buddhist nationalist elements…On May 23, President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned Gnanasara Thero, the leader of the nationalist Bodu Bala Sena (organization), who has long been associated with instigating deadly anti-Muslim violence, freeing him after he had served less than a year of a six-year prison term for contempt of court,” it added.

HRW further said that the Sinhalese government has invoked the criminal law to arrest peaceful critics of Sri Lankan Buddhism in violation of their rights to free expression.

“The situation has caused mounting international alarm for the safety of Muslims and other minorities,” it stressed.

“The ethnic violence and human rights violations that many Sri Lankans have suffered are now being directed against Muslims,” Ganguly said.

“The Sri Lankan government needs to take a stand against discrimination and intolerance, use the law to punish those responsible for abuses and protect, rather than target, vulnerable people.”

[Photo: Anti Muslim riots in Minuwangoda village in Gampaha, Sri Lanka, damaged Muslim owned shops on 14 May 2019. Photographer: Chamila Karunarathne/AA]

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