In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 257 people, anti-Muslim riots have erupted in Sri Lanka. A man was reportedly slashed to death while scores of shops, houses and mosques were torched by a violent mob. A curfew has been imposed in the North-Western Province, and social networking websites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked for an unspecified period.
In the Puttalam district of the North-West Province, a 45-year-old man was stabbed in his carpentry workshop after violence erupted on May 12. The doctors who operated on him said that he succumbed to grave injuries sustained during the attack.
Three shops in the Hetipolla area and a pasta factory in Minuwangoda town were torched on May 13. Another mob, comprising hundreds of men, stormed in the north-western Kiniyama, and vandalized a mosque. Eyewitnesses said that the rioters broke the windows and doors before setting the building and copies of Quran on fire.
According to 48-year-old Mohammad Faleel, whose shop was torched, the attackers came on motorbikes and were armed with rods and swords. The police stood by and watched as the rioters began the violence. “Police asked us to stay inside our shops. We asked the police officials to open fire but despite our pleadings, they didn’t help us,” he said.
Fearing escalation of communal tension across the country, prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Monday evening, declared a country-wide curfew to prevent unidentified groups from orchestrating communal violence. He said that the unrest would hamper investigations into the April 21 suicide bombing, which killed hundreds and wounded many more in six bomb blasts in churches and luxury hotels.
The Muslim population, which is mostly concentrated in the eastern part of the country, is worried about more retaliatory violence. Security forces have been given orders to use “maximum force” to ensure that the law and order situation is restored and the perpetrators of the riots are booked, police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said.
Muslims and Christians form roughly 17% of the total population of 21 million population in Sri Lanka, which is predominantly a Buddhist majority state. Mob violence targeting Muslim communities in central Sri Lanka erupted in March last year, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.