Observations on communal violence erupted today in Sri Lanka

Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe

Anti Muslim communal violence erupted in few parts of the island of Sri Lanka for at least the third time after Easter Sunday terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists linked to ISIS, National Thawheed Jamaath and another unknown extreme cell.

Sources from the ground said that police and security forces were trying to suppress the mobs in some areas who rampaged damaging property and sacred places of the Muslims. However, eyewitnesses accused police for failing to using power to prevent violence that happened before their eyes in some places. The majority of police and security forces cader is Sinhalese and they are often alleged of being partial in tense situations.

By 8 p.m., the government of Sri Lanka declared curfew in the entire island from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. to control the occurrence of violence. Shooting was heard from some areas in the evening. Violence was reported initially in the North Western Province and spread to other districts like Gampaha.

Eyewitnesses told yesterday that the mobs were roaming free last night in Chilaw area where curfew had been imposed after violence. It is feared that same can happen in the island tonight too.

However, police and security forces seemed to have no control in some areas whereas mobs rampaged freely at least for few hours in which they finished most of the damage.

However, no human casualties were reported so far. The targets were mostly businesses and the incidences appeared as planned with specific purpose. Anti Muslim extremist groups were widely campaigning online as well as through conventional media against Muslim dominance in business world in the past few days.

Since weeks, rumours were deliberately spread by organized groups stating that the Muslim extremists would launch bomb attacks targeting several crucial towns in Colombo. Some people suspect the rumour is a part of the manipulation.

A day before the start of government schools after the Easter Sunday attack, communal violence erupted in Negambo on 5th May 2019. Similarly, violence occurred again on 12th May in Chilaw a day ahead of start of primary classes in government schools on 13th May. Both incidents were ignited due to negligible minor incidents that cannot be considered as communal provocations at all. In Negambo, the purported cause was a personal brawl between two trishaw taxi drivers and in Chilaw, the cause was a Facebook comment.

Photos and videos of the damaged and burning houses of the Muslims are spreading via social media which are blocked in Sri Lanka for the moment. Despite the government’s habit of blocking social media always as soon as communal violence occurred, lot of active social media users log in via Virtual Private Networks.

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena has left for China to attend a conference. Unlike the previous occasions, the President left the country handing over the duties as the Minister of Defense to State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardhana, a close relative of Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe. President Maithripala Sirisena considers his coalition partner United National Party led by the Premier, as his arch rivals now.