On Thursday, Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Shelley Whiting along with Australian High Commissioner Bryce Hutchesson, Tung-Lai Margue, ambassador of the European Union and 17 other foreign diplomats condemned violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka urging the Sri Lankan government to uphold minority rights and freedom of religion.
“It is important that the rule of law be applied against those perpetrators and it’s important that minority rights and freedom of religion are upheld,” Canadian high commissioner Shelley Whiting, told news reporters.
More than 20 attacks on Muslims have been recorded since April 17, including arson at Muslim-owned businesses and petrol-bomb attacks on mosques.
Muslims have blamed the attacks on Body Bala Sena (BBS) or the “Buddhist Power Force”, an organization that says the spread of Islam is a threat to Buddhism as the dominant religion. It denies any involvement.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe have ordered police to uphold the law, but the violence against Muslims has not ended.
The Bodu Bala Sena was established in 2012 following the footsteps of the anti-Muslim campaign of the 969 movement in Myanmar (formerly Burma). The founder of the 969 movement, Ashin Wirathu, visited Sri Lanka on the invitation of the BBS in 2014; the BBS was close to the then President Rajapaksa who is suspected to have instigated its establishment. The Siva Senai (Shiva’s Force in English) was established in October 2016 following the footsteps of India’s Hindutva party Shiv Sena of Mumbai (here) which supports Modi’s ruling BJP.
Although the anti Muslim violence has got the center stage at this time, there is also anti Christian violence that has been directed for a longer period against evangelical Christian groups that engage in conversion activities. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance has reported that since the beginning of this year, over 20 incidents of violence and intimidation took place against Christian (3%)places of worship across the country.
Islam was introduced to Sri Lanka, known to Arabs as Indaleep (Island of pearls) by Muslim traders in late 7th century (here). Currently, Muslims make the third largest community (10%) after Buddhists (70%), and Hindus (12%).
Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, wrote on June 6, 2017: “In the last two months there have been several violent attacks targeting the Muslim community which appear to have ended at least temporarily. Muslim owned business enterprises and places of religious worship were especially targeted. These incidents, numbering over 20, caused economic ruin to many people, hurt their religious sentiment and brought dismay to the entire community. However, attacks on the Muslims have been taking place on an irregular basis for the past several years. They spiked in 2014 with the burning of a section of Aluthgama town in which the Muslim community was dominant. The most recent attacks took place in different parts of the country. While not simultaneous, they were sufficiently widespread and systematic to suggest a pre-planned effort to target the Muslims. None of the recent attacks led to deaths. It appears that the attacks had been carefully calibrated. None of the attackers are known to have been arrested (here).