Sri Lankan Anti-Muslim Riots Claim First Life As Communal Tensions Rise
A 45-year-old man was hacked to death in Sri Lanka after a religiously-fuelled mob attacked his carpentry workshop on Monday. The man succumbed to his injuries after being rushed to a hospital in Puttalam district where the rioting began on Sunday, according to a police official who spoke to AFP.
“Mobs had attacked him with sharp weapons at his carpentry workshop,” the police official told the AFP news agency. “This is the first death from the riots.”
Today, Amith Weerasinghe of Mahason Balakaya, a Sinhalese Buddhist group and Namal Kumara, a self-declared anti-corruption activist along with 13 others have been arrested for questioning in connection with Monday’s violence, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara who spoke to The Hindu.
Other reports claim that two busloads of people, aided by local goons, carried out attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned shops. Homes were torched on May 13 at Kurunegala district in Sri Lanka.
Hilmy Ahmed, the vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka while speaking to the Hindu said, “The fact that the mobs arrived in buses showed that these attacks were planned…It was very much like the previous instances of anti-Muslim attacks,”
The rising anti-muslim mob violence is seen as the worst outbreak of violence since the Easter Sunday Bombings. In an address to the nation on Monday night, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said a countrywide curfew was declared to prevent unidentified groups orchestrating communal violence.
Sri Lanka officials lifted the nationwide curfew imposed on Tuesday but decided to reimpose it in the North-Western Province (NWP) of the country which includes the Puttalam and Kurunegala districts.
Rising violence around the country
According to The Hindu, the police said that there have been sporadic incidents of mobs throwing stones and torching shops, motorcycles and cars owned by Muslims.
In the town of Hettipola, at least three shops were torched. Whereas in the town of Minuwangoda, just north of Colombo, a Muslim-owned hotel and a mosque were attacked by stone-hurling mobs armed with sticks.
Al Jazeera reported that glass was strewn across the Abrar mosque in the town of Kiniyama that was attacked overnight. All the windows and doors of the soft-pink building were smashed and copies of the Quran were thrown onto the floor.
Police chief Chandana Wickramaratne has said that constables have been issued orders to use “maximum force” against rioters.
The country of Sri Lanka which has been under a state of emergency since the Easter Sunday bombings has now given its security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods, according to Al Jazeera.
“Several shops have been attacked,” a senior police officer told AFP. “When mobs tried to attack mosques, we fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse them.”
Anti-muslim riots have been on a rise in the country ever since the Easter Sunday bombings, in what is seen as a communal backlash response. But the latest wave of unrest started when a mob, enraged by a Facebook post of a shopkeeper, targeted Muslim-owned shops in the town of Chilaw, 70 kilometres north of Colombo.
According to reports, “Don’t laugh more, 1 day u will cry,” was the comment posted on Facebook by the Muslim shopkeeper, and local Christians took it to be a warning of an impending attack.
This sparked a mob to vandalise the man’s shop and a mosque nearby, while security forces fired in the air to disperse the agitated crowd. Authorities said they arrested the author of the post.
Condemnation Pours Over Twitter
On Sunday, the government temporarily banned social media networks and messaging apps after several towns experienced attacks on its Muslim population. However, Twitter has remained unaffected and has been used as the means to communicate with the general public.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe posted this on his Twitter account on Monday.
I appeal to all citizens to remain calm and not be swayed by false information. Security forces are working tirelessly to apprehend terrorists and ensure the security of the country, but each time there is civil unrest, we increase their burden and hamper ongoing investigations.
— Ranil Wickremesinghe (@RW_UNP) May 13, 2019
Amnesty International too commented on ‘this worrying trend’.
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) May 13, 2019
Former Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara also pitched in his comments.
STOP. BREATHE. THINK. OPEN YOUR EYES. If we lose ourselves in violence, racism, thuggery and hatred we lose our country. Unite as Sri Lankans, be peaceful, keep each other safe. Do not give into shameful, divisive political agendas. WE HEAL AND RISE TOGETHER AS ONE NATION
— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) May 14, 2019