2018 anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka

Anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka
2018 anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka is located in Sri Lanka
Ampara
Ampara
Kandy
Kandy
LocationAmpara and Kandy District, Sri Lanka
Date26 February – 10 March 2018 (UTC+05:30)
TargetMosques, Muslim-owned property, and Muslim civilians
Attack type
Widespread looting, assault, arson
Deaths2
Non-fatal injuries
Ampara District: 5
Kandy District: 10
MotiveKandy – Fatal assault on a Sinhalese lorry driver by four Muslim youths
Ampara – Allegations of 'sterilization pills' in food served at a Muslim-owned eatery

The Sri Lankan anti-Muslim riots were the series of religious riots targeting Muslims beginning in the Sri Lankan town of Ampara on 26 February 2018, and had started in Kandy District by 2 March until its end on 10 March 2018. Muslim citizens, mosques and other properties were attacked by mobs of Sinhalese Buddhists, and mobs of Muslims attacked Buddhists Temples and Sinhalese citizens. The Government of Sri Lanka undertook a forceful crackdown on the rioting by imposing a state of emergency and deploying the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to assist the Police in the affected areas. The situation was brought under control by 9 March. Two fatalities and ten injuries were reported among Sinhalese, Muslims and Police. According to the police, forty five incidents of damage to houses and businesses have been reported, while four places of worship have been attacked. The police have arrested 81 persons in connection with rioting.[1][2][3][4]

Rioting in Kandy District began in Udispattuwa and Teldeniya, later spreading to Digana, Tennekumbura and other areas. It was sparked when a middle-aged truck driver of Sinhalese ethnicity was assaulted by four Muslim youth following a traffic accident. The truck driver died of his injuries four days later. On 5 March Sinhalese mobs began attacking Muslim properties in the region, resulting in widespread damage to property while some mobs of local Sinhalese organized by Buddhist monks protected mosques from attackers. [5][6] The riots, the first large-scale Buddhist-Muslim sectarian violence since similar riots in 2014, prompted the Government of Sri Lanka to declare a State of Emergency for a period of ten days, in addition to the police curfew already imposed on the district.[7][8][9] The state of emergency is the first such since 2011.[10][11][12]

Social media networks including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were blocked in parts of the country in an effort to prevent mobs from organizing their attacks and spreading propaganda.[13][14][15][16] However, the block on the social media networks were uplifted after 72 hours and the cabinet minister, Harsha de Silva further stated that the social media networks have been returned to normal conditions by 10 March 2018.[17] After three days of raid in the main town of Kandy, at least 81 people were reported to have been arrested including the main suspect, Amith Jeevan Weerasinghe by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan police in connection to the incident as the situation has been under controlled by the forces.[18][19][20][21] However, a curfew has been reimposed in the Kandy town until 9 March 2018.[22][23] The police officers state that the unusual situation which prevailed in the country for few days has been brought under control but tight securities have been imposed in few parts of the nation as the predicted threats have been focused on the Muslim prayers on 9 March 2018 which is a Friday. The riots were denounced by Buddhist monks and many Sinhalese and Buddhist monks rallied to protect and help Muslims and Mosques during the prayers across the country.[24][25][26][27] According to the Government, Independent observers, Muslims and Sinhalese in the area the majority of the rioters came from other areas of Sri Lanka to carry out the riots.[28][29]

The government revealed that about nearly 465 houses, businesses and vehicles were destroyed and promised to compensate for the families who were severely affected due to the communal violence.[30]

After few weeks since the end of the anti-Muslim riots, a new CCTV footage revealed that some police officials and politicians were aiding to develop the communal violences against the Muslims.[31][32] It was confirmed that the deficiencies and ineffective attitudes of the police are to be investigated and questioned by the Sri Lankan government.[33]

Background

Despite mostly coexisting peacefully, many Sinhalese are suspicious of Muslims, believing that their slightly higher birth rates threaten their demographic supremacy, while others view Muslim businessmen as exploiting poor Sinhalese. Some political analysts believe that Sinhalese extremists are trying to transfer remaining hostility against Tamils onto the mostly Tamil-speaking Muslim population.[34] Another factor is increasing Arab influence over Sri Lankan Muslim culture in recent years including the building a number of mosques using money coming from Arab countries and the adoption of the niqab by Muslim women which diverges from traditional dress in the area.[35]

Sri Lanka has seen several communally charged incidents between the majority Sinhala community and the country's Muslim minority. Ampara District had experienced tensions since 2017, with Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forced conversions and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.[36][37]

The recent communal violence in Kandy is the first since the Black July violence which was occurred in 1983 between Tamils and Sinhalese Buddhists.[38] This violence is also the first time such communal violence has occurred between Muslims and Buddhists in the district of Kandy since the 1915 Ceylonese riots which was incited by the British administration.[39][40][41]

Ampara

Late at night on 26 February, a group of youths arrived at a restaurant on D.S. Senanayake Street in Ampara town. The meal served by the restaurant contained elements resembling tablets. The youth shared a video of the owner, a Muslim man, supposedly admitting that the food contained sterilization pills.[42][43] The owner of the restaurant was physically attacked by a mob, who then spread the word about the incident.[44][45] The police arrested the restaurant owner as a result of the video. The claim made by the video was later proven to be false; the owner had in fact nodded his head in fear of the angry mob, without actually knowing the Sinhala word 'wandapethi' (sterilization pills), and thus without understanding the question he had been asked.[42]

Kandy District

At 2 PM on 22 February 2018, a Sinhalese lorry driver from Ambala, Medamahanuwara was assaulted by four Muslim youths in Karaliyadda, Teldeniya.[29][46][47][48] The victim was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Kandy General Hospital and died on the night of 2 March from his injuries.[48] The victim's assistant (also traveling in the lorry) was assaulted, admitted to hospital, and later discharged after treatment.[49]

The motive behind the attack has not been clearly established. Some reports state it stemmed from a road accident where the trucker had damaged the wing mirror of an auto rickshaw the assailants had been travelling in while attempting to overtake it; all four suspects were reported to have been intoxicated.[48] The suspects were arrested by the Sri Lanka Police on the day of the attack and remanded until 7 March.[48]