World / Dozens arrested after anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka

The Hindu : May 15, 2019, 12:24 PM

Sri Lanka police arrested dozens and remanded nearly 30 persons on Tuesday, in connection with the spate of anti-Muslim attacks in at least three districts over the past two days.

A 45-year-old Muslim man, who ran a timber store in Kurunegala district in the North Western Province, died of stab injuries. According to residents of the villages in the area, at least two busloads of people, aided by “local goons”, carried out attacks on mosques, Muslim-owned shops and homes on Sunday night and Monday afternoon, in the worst outbreak of violence since the April 21 Easter bombings. Similar attacks were reported in parts of nearby Gampaha and Puttalam districts.

“The fact that the mobs arrived in buses showed that these attacks were planned,” said Hilmy Ahmed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella body of Muslim civil society organisations. “It was very much like the previous instances of anti-Muslim attacks,” he told The Hindu.

On Tuesday, the stench of a gutted factory in an interior road of Minuwangoda, about 40 km north east of Colombo, filled the vicinity. The pasta factory was the only Muslim-owned property on that stretch, according a middle-aged man running a small shop facing the factory. “I was right here yesterday evening, when 300 to 400 people entered the factory and set it on fire. Six workers were injured trying to escape,” he said, requesting not to be named. The mob, he said, came from the town area after attacking several Muslim-owned stores there.

Amith Weerasinghe of Mahason Balakaya, a Sinhala-Buddhist group; and Namal Kumara, a self-declared anti-corruption activist, were arrested on Tuesday for questioning in connection with Monday’s violence, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told The Hindu.

Inciting violence

Mr. Weerasinghe was earlier accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence in Digana near Kandy in March 2018. He was arrested following the attacks and granted bail in October last. Mr. Kumara made news when he claimed he was aware of a plot to kill President Maithripala Sirisena. Police also arrested Dan Priyasad, of hard-line Sinhala nationalist group Nawa Sinhale, in connection with the attacks.

Meanwhile, a prominent legislator aligned to President Sirisena, came into focus in the wake of Monday’s mob attacks. Dayasiri Jayasekara, general secretary of Mr. Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and a former Minister, visited a police station in one of the affected villages to reportedly transfer six suspects, who were in custody for allegedly violating the curfew, to another police station and to have them released on bail.

When contacted, Mr. Jayasekara — an MP from Kurunegala — said he went to his area after reports of a huge crowd agitating in front of a police station. “I went there to help transfer the suspects to another police station to avoid any violence,” he told The Hindu, accusing social media of “distorting” his visit.

Appealing for calm, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the public not to be swayed by false information.

Cabinet Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem said allowing such violence and “pre-planned attacks” was a reward to the “demented individuals” who carried out the Easter bombings. “This is exactly what they wanted,” he told The Hindu.

M.A. Sumanthiran, spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance and Jaffna district parliamentarian said: “We appeal to the government: Do not let that happen. Do not let yet another community in Sri Lanka feel that in order to survive in this country, it must fight for itself.”