The Secretariat for Muslims in collaboration with the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka has been documenting the harassment, intimidation and violence perpetuated by extremist groups against the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.
The several groups of monks that identify themselves as saviours of Sri Lankan Buddhism and act in ways that are discriminatory of minority religions have not been getting the same level of media coverage as in the early months of 2013. However, our documentation shows that their activities by no means ceased. During the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting from the 10th to the 17th of November, there was a drop in reported incidents. However, the week prior to the meeting and the week immediately after the meeting both saw incidents reported.
We discerned the following trends in the reports. Many of the incidents and the statements insulting Muslims that were made to the press by monk led organisations, were reported mainly in the Tamil press. The percentage of such statements reported in the Sinhala and English press were far less. The cumulative result of this was that the Muslim sense of unease continued unabated while the awareness of such incidents in the larger Sri Lankan context diminished. It is hoped that this would also have the salutary effect of reducing the spread of hate sentiment.
During the September to December reporting period there were nine reported incidents targeting mosques and other places of Muslim worship including the demolition of all buildings around the Shrine of Abdul Qadir Jailani located in Balangoda. There were also attacks on the Mosque in Dambulla that was the site of much controversy in 2012. Several incidents were also reported from two adjacent suburbs of Colombo – Dehiwela and Kohuwala. The Muslim community living in the vicinity of the Devanagala Temple in Mawanella in the Kegalle district also experienced extreme discomfort due to the agitation of Buddhist groups. In Devanagala the monks groups are protesting the presence of “Anyaagamikayan” or people of other faiths, in the vicinity of the temple which has also been declared a site of archeological importance. Interestingly, however, the call is for the removal of the Muslims only who have been living in this area for over 100 years, not for the Sinhalese who also populate that area.
Some of the trends noted in the hate rhetoric from the monks groups are as follows. There is a tendency to portray the Muslims as engaging in activities that are detrimental to the well being of both Sinhalese and Tamils. Certain criminal activities are being attributed to Muslims. The fact that the ethnic identity of criminal elements is not their only characteristic, and also that in this country, acts of petty crime are committed by members of more than one ethnicity is not highlighted.
There was an instant when an attempt was also made to paint the Muslim politicians as traitorous by referring to alleged links between Muslim politicians and the LTTE. (Sending a wreath to Tamil Chelvam’s funeral was mentioned as indicative of such an alliance.) One monk accused Rauf Hakeem of trying to bring about Eelam.
There were three incidents related to meat consumption that were noted. The beef stall in Devanagala was forcibly shut down. The beef stalls in the Dompe area were discontinued and during the dates close to the Haj festival during which Muslims engage in the compulsory sacrifice of an animal for distribution among the poor, there was what was seen as a deliberate attempt to delay the granting of permits for this activity in Kanaththota, in the Kegalle district. (See reporting from October 16th, incidents no. 30, 31.)
There were also several statements made by the monks of the various groups inciting persons to violent action. One was the statement made in Devanagala on Dec. 3rd. On that day in Dewanagala Ven. Anuradhapura Amitha Dhamma according to news reports allegedly claimed that he had destroyed the mosques in Anuradhapura, and wowed that he would destroy the ones in Kegalle in the same way. At the Bodu Bala Sena meeting in Anuradhapura on 5th October the Rev. Gnanasara stated that “when different missionaries visit your homes, there is no use informing the police.” Implying that there are no laws to deal with the problems created by minority religious groups in the country the monk stated “we have to make our own laws,” and further stated that “we should use the broom.” On the 5th of September the Rev. Gnanasara issues a warning that “the public will take the law in to their own hands” if halal is not done away with. These statements on the one hand are a reflection of the general deterioration of the law and order situation in the country. On the other hand by celebrating the acts of lawlessness and invoking a putatively higher ethical order “we have to make our own laws” the monks are giving ethical endorsement for all kinds of activities outside the law.
Attacks on residences and businesses of persons identified as Muslims were also reported from three areas in the Galle district. (On 19th September, 12th October and 18th December respectively.)
The frequency of press statements, press conferences and press releases by the monks groups speaks to the manner in which concerted effort is being made to maintain the pressure – the fear and intimidation on the minority groups—and to keep the issues alive with a Sinhala Buddhist majority. The fact that few major newspapers carry the hate statement on a continued basis is some small relief.
The list produced here includes incidents reported in the press and on news websites (sources provided). When possible the SFM has followed up and enquired in to the incidents from members of the affected communities and activists working on the issue. We want to reiterate however, that the list does not include all incidents of everyday harassment, graffiti on the walls etc. that Muslims in various regional towns routinely experience.
The SFM also wants to call attention to the fact that while this list highlights the incidents perpetrated against the Muslims, it should be kept in mind that they are part of a climate of fear created against religious minorities which has a longer history targeting Christian places of worship. The very recent public incident of violence directed towards two evangelical Christian churches (January 12th 2014) by mobs led by monks were witnessed by the television and newspaper coverage that these incidents received. It is hoped that the public outcry against these incidents will lead to an improvement in the status of minority religions in the country. What these recent incidents bring to the fore of our attention is something that has been going on for a long time: the open and freely perpetrated violence against minority religions’ places of worship. According to documentation by the Christian Evangelical Alliance there were 52 incidents against Christians in 2012, and from January to October 2013, there were 65 incidents of anti-Christian violence reported in the country.