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Amnesty calls on Sri Lanka to end violence, discrimination against Muslims

October 20, 2021 at 4:23 pm

Sri Lankan army soldiers patrol during special cordon-and-search operations in Colombo on May 25, 2019 [LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP via Getty Images]

Amnesty International (AI) has urged the Sri Lankan government to put an end to violence and discrimination against the island’s Muslim minority.

According to a statement released on Sunday, AI said the Muslim community of Sri Lanka, which represents almost 10 per cent of the population, has suffered consistent discrimination, harassment, and violence since 2013.

The findings, based on a new report titled “From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies: Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination, and Violence in Sri Lanka” claimed that Islamophobia has been on the rise amid a surge in Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism,  particularly following the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist attack, which was claimed by a local Daesh cell and resulted in the deaths of over 250 people. In 2016, the then-government announced that 32 Sri Lankan Muslims from ‘well-educated and elite’ families had joined Daesh in Syria, which had an effect of radicalisation on the country’s community.

Such discrimination has developed from mob attacks to government policies intended to marginalise the Muslim community, including forced cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims and current proposals to enforce a ban on the niqab (face veil) and madrasas (religious schools).

The anti-Muslim hostility is said to have intensified in 2013, when Buddhist nationalist groups successfully lobbied to outlaw halal certification of food, leading to an increase in attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses, with impunity.

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“While anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka is nothing new, the situation has regressed sharply in recent years. Incidents of violence against Muslims, committed with the tacit approval of the authorities, have occurred with alarming frequency. This has been accompanied by the adoption by the current government of rhetoric and policies that have been openly hostile to Muslims,” said Kyle Ward, AI’s Deputy Secretary-General.

“The Sri Lankan authorities must break this alarming trend and uphold their duty to protect Muslims from further attacks, hold perpetrators accountable and end the use of government policies to target, harass and discriminate against the Muslim community.”

AI has accused the current Sri Lankan government, since taking office last year, of continuing “to target and scapegoat the Muslim population to distract from political and economic issues”.

Sri Lankan Muslims, who are mostly Sunni, are divided into three main ethno-social backgrounds: Sri Lankan Moors (who mostly speak Tamil but trace their ancestry to Arab traders who settled on the island from the 8th century), Indian Moors, and Malays.

Sri Lanka’s Colombo Gazette reported yesterday that the government has assured the safety and security of the Muslim community. Cabinet co-spokesman, Dr Ramesh Pathirana, said, “We are a responsible Government. We want to reiterate the fact that we will look after the interests of all the communities in the country, including Muslims, Tamils, and Sinhalese”