Sri Lanka’s Muslim community has suffered consistent discrimination, harassment and violence since 2013, culminating in the adoption of Government policies explicitly targeting the minority group, said Amnesty International, in a new report published today.
From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies: Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination and Violence in Sri Lanka, traces the development of anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka since 2013 amid surging Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. This discrimination has evolved from a rising series of mob attacks committed with impunity, into government policies explicitly discriminating against Muslims, including the forced cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims and current proposals to ban both the niqab (face veil) and madrasas (religious schools).
“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, Amnesty International’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.”
Incidents of violence towards Muslims have risen in frequency and intensity since 2013, with a series of flashpoints in which attackers and those responsible for hate speech have enjoyed impunity for their actions.
This escalating hostility began with the anti-halal campaign of that year, when Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups successfully lobbied to end the halal certification of food, which demarks food permissible for consumption by Muslims, in accordance with Islamic scripture and customs. The campaign gave rise to a number of attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses, with the lack of accountability for those responsible acting as a signal to others that acts of violence against Muslims could be committed with impunity.
The following year, anti-Muslim riots in the southern coastal town of Aluthgama began after a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist group held a rally in the town. Here too, perpetrators of violence enjoyed impunity and authorities failed to deliver justice to victims.
Despite a new government in 2015, which promised justice and accountability for ethnic and religious minorities, attacks against Muslims continued to occur. Shortly after the election, anti-Muslim mob violence flared in the southern coastal town of Ginthota in 2017, while similar violence was seen in 2018 in Digana and Ampara, towns in the central and eastern provinces respectively. Not only did perpetrators escape accountability, victims and witnesses alleged the police and armed forces did not offer sufficient protection or act to prevent the violence.
The report documents several cases in which these laws have been abused to target individuals, including Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer and activist who has been detained for more than 15 months, and Ahnaf Jazeem, a poet and teacher, who was arrested on 16 May 2020 following unsubstantiated claims about his Tamil language poetry. (Colombo Gazette)