Mosque, shops attacked in anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka
Mosque, shops attacked in anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka
Muslim-owned businesses were set on fire and vandalized in several parts of Sri Lanka, police said, days after an island-wide state of emergency was imposed to curb riots in Kandy.
Police announced 85 people had been arrested for rioting in the hill district, including the leader of a radical Sinhalese Buddhist group known for agitating against Muslims.
“We have arrested 10 key suspects, including Amith Weerasinghe, who orchestrated and led these attacks,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters in Colombo, adding that another 75 were detained.
Armored vehicles and heavily-armed troops guarded Kandy, the epicenter of the violence where Internet services remain suspended and an evening curfew is in place.
The government ordered the Internet blackout after police discovered mobs of Sinhalese rioters were using social media to coordinate attacks on Muslim establishments.
More than 200 homes, businesses and vehicles have been torched in three days of violence by mobs from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
A 24-hour curfew was imposed on Wednesday afternoon after a hand grenade exploded in the hands of an attacker, killing him and wounding 11 others, officials said.
The day-time curfew was eased following a calm night but schools were shuttered as tensions remain high in the tourist hotspot.
In Kuruvita, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kandy, police said petrol bombs were lobbed at a mosque. Little damage was inflicted and three suspects are being pursued.
In Weligama, 240 kilometers south of Kandy, a Muslim-owned business was attacked, police said, while Muslim establishments were pelted with stones in at least two other locations outside Kandy.
Sri Lanka’s telecoms regulator asked Internet providers to block access to Facebook and other social media platforms to prevent the spread of anti-Muslim hate speech.
Police have already identified anti-Muslim messages being shared on social networks, including a video posted by a hard-line Buddhist monk urging violence against Muslims.
Muslims in Kandy complained that security forces and police — equipped with special powers to detain under the emergency provision — were slow to react as the violence unfolded.
“The main junction is going up in flames. At the same time, the authorities are folding their arms and watching,” said Muslim businessman M. Jaffer, as quoted in Thursday’s DailyFT newspaper.
Former Sri Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara alluded to the island’s history of ethnic violence in urging his countrymen “to say no to racism.”
“We have to make sure that in Sri Lanka anyone and everyone feels safe, loved and accepted regardless of ethnicity or religion,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.
President Maithripala Sirisena toured Kandy on Wednesday and ordered security forces to use the full force of the law against troublemakers.
Military officials said more reinforcements were sent to the area on Wednesday night to assist police who resorted to teargas to disperse rioters the previous evening.
The United Nations has condemned the violence and urged Colombo “to ensure that appropriate measures are swiftly taken to restore normalcy in affected areas.”
The Kandy region, 115 kilometers (72 miles) east of the capital Colombo, is popular with tourists as well as Buddhist pilgrims.
“Shops are opening, and more people can be seen on the roads since the curfew was lifted,” a police official in the area said by telephone.
Holidaymakers have been urged to avoid the hill resort, which is home to Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
The chief custodian of the UNESCO-listed temple, Pradeep Nilanga Dela, said foreign tourists and pilgrims were flocking to the shrine despite the tensions.
The unrest began Monday after a Sinhalese man died following injuries sustained at the hands of a Muslim mob last week. Conflict escalated when a Muslim man was found dead in a burnt building on Tuesday.
Sinhalese Buddhists are the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka, making up 75 percent of its 21 million people. Muslims make up 10 percent of the population.
Parliament on Tuesday issued an apology to the island’s Muslim minority for the latest violence targeting them in the Indian Ocean island.
Mobs also set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week. Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.
In June 2014 riots between Buddhists, led by radical monks, and Muslims left four dead.
Own up to mass Muslim detentions, Amnesty tells China
- Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang
- Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment
BEIJING: China must come clean about the fate of an estimated one million minority Muslims swept up in a “massive crackdown” in its far western region of Xinjiang, Amnesty International said Monday.
Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang.
Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment.
In a new report, which included testimony from people held in the camps, the international rights group said Beijing had rolled out “an intensifying government campaign of mass internment, intrusive surveillance, political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation.”
Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are punished for violating regulations banning beards and burqas, and for the possession of unauthorized Qur’ans, it added.
Up to a million people are detained in internment camps, a United Nations panel on racial discrimination reported last month, with many detained for offenses as minor as making contact with family members outside the country or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media.
“Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart by this massive crackdown,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia director, in a statement.
“They are desperate to know what has happened to their loved ones and it is time the Chinese authorities give them answers.”
Beijing has denied reports of the camps but evidence is mounting in the form of government documents and escapee testimony.
These suggest that Chinese authorities are detaining large groups of people in a network of extrajudicial camps for political and cultural indoctrination on a scale unseen since the Maoist era.
Amnesty’s report interviewed several former detainees who said they were put in shackles, tortured, and made to sing political songs and learn about the Communist Party.
The testimony tallies with evidence gathered by foreign reporters and rights groups in the past year.
Amnesty also called on governments around the world to hold Beijing to account for “the nightmare” unfolding in Xinjiang.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced “awful abuses” of Uighur Muslims detained in re-education camps.
“Hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Uighurs are held against their will in so-called re-education camps where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses,” Pompeo said in a speech.
However Pakistan, China’s biggest Muslim ally, quickly denied reports last week that it had criticized Beijing — which is pouring billions in infrastructure investment into the country — over the issue.
Religious affairs minister Noorul Haq Qadri told AFP China has agreed to exchange delegations of religious students to help promote “harmony” between Muslims and Chinese authorities.
China’s top leaders recently called for religious practices to be brought in line with “traditional” Chinese values and culture, sparking concern among rights groups.
Earlier this month draft regulations suggested Beijing was considering restrictions on religious content online, such as images of people praying or chanting.
State supervision of religion has increased in a bid to “block extremism,” and authorities have removed Islamic symbols such as crescents from public spaces in areas with significant Muslim populations.
Christians have also been targeted in crackdowns, with a prominent Beijing “underground” church shuttered by authorities earlier this month. Churches in central Henan province have seen their crosses torn down and followers harassed.