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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Immediate action needed: Hate speech & Inter community tension on the rise

Image: it was calculated hate speech that led to Aluthgama anti-Muslim riots in June 2014.

After a two year lull that followed replacement of the former government through the electoral process, public manifestations of inter community tension have increased in recent months. There are indications of political maneuvering behind these efforts to disturb the peace in the country and to bring ethno-religious nationalism to the fore. Video footages of religious clergy engaging in vitriolic attacks on those of other ethnic and religious groups have gone viral on the social media. Ethno nationalist organizations have been engaging in hate campaigns and intimidating those of other communities at the local level. Most notably in the North and East, there are clashes being reported on inter religious grounds. There are many incidents of religious clergy getting involved in expansionist projects, such as religious conversions, destruction of ancient sites or building places of worship in areas where they are less numerous

The National Peace Council welcomes President Maithripala Sirisena’s admonition that anyone who violates the law would be dealt with by the law enforcement agencies. In a context in which religious tension is rising, the government is planning to conduct programmes to educate the clergy of all religions on the importance of integration and reconciliation. The Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation A H M Fowzie is making arrangements to hold programmes to promote national reconciliation. Minister of Justice and Buddhasasana, Wijeyadasa Rajapaksheha has said that all ethnic and religious groups are welcome to participate in the dialogue. He said various groups, including the Bodu Bala Sena and Ravana Balaya, had agreed to participate in the effort to resolve issues through dialogue.

In addition to its awareness creation and dialogue-centred activities, the National Peace Council calls on the government to take action against those who engage in hate speech which creates disaffection and mistrust between communities. The suspected arson attack last Saturday on a Muslim owned warehouse in a Colombo suburb that was previously burned down in 2013 by a mob makes it clear that law enforcement is an urgent priority. In the past there has been a climate of impunity with charges not being brought against the perpetrators, and the victims being railroaded into informal settlements or face worse consequences. This has only served to embolden the aggressors. As their conduct is in clear violation of the law we demand that the laws against incitement to disaffection be enforced by the Attorney General and the Police and those engaging in violence are given exemplary punishment through the judicial process as a deterrent to racist and mob action before they grows out of hand


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