Negombo is in lockdown. In the aftermath of the coordinated terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, community tensions have escalated in Negombo. Since the bombings, the Government has imposed a state of emergency granting security forces heightened powers. Sri Lankan authorities claim that these provisional powers ensure public security, however, the repression of the media and 10 p.m. curfews are questionable social controls. Negombo’s curfew enforcement is a direct response to escalating spates of interreligious violence between Sinhalese Buddhists, Christians and Muslim groups. To date, the seaside city has had Muslim shop fronts vandalized and multiple vehicles burned by marauding Catholic mobs. With the support of sweeping military and police forces, state schools have also recently reopened amidst the continuing flux of civil unrest. Nonetheless, most classrooms have remained empty as many weary Negombo parents remain unconvinced about the level of safety in the region.
The Sri Lankan Government’s state of emergency has given the police and military the power to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders. Under such provisions, Acting Inspector General of Police Chandana Wickremaratne has claimed that “all those who organized and carried out the suicide bomb attack have died or are in our custody”. 73 people are currently in custody and many of these suspects have familial links to the suicide bombers. Though Wickremaratne has said that “normalcy has returned”, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned that further Islamist militant attacks cannot be ruled out. It is expected that this necessary violence quashing curfew will be relaxed in the coming days.
Correspondingly social media bans that have been enforced during this tumultuous period will relapse. The ban is a transgression against the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights promotion of everyone having the right to freedom of opinion and expression through any media. Popular social media sites Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat, and Viber have all been banned in response to the spread of fake news on their platforms. The shutdown of these media sources was intended to prevent the propagation of unverified reports which could interfere with investigations and cause further unrest. However, media blackouts have prevented communication between loved ones and may have accelerated the spread of misinformation. Sri Lanka’s press has been labelled as “not free” by independent watchdog, Freedom House. Therefore, the Government’s recent move to temporarily disable Negombo citizen’s access to online mediums continues to solidify a dangerous precedent for unjust censorship.
The Sri Lanka bombings were perpetrated by two relatively unknown domestic Islamist terror groups. The National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), both of whom have ties with ISIS. The Easter extremist attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 257 people with another 496 wounded, 12 of which remain in critical condition. Over the course of the day three Christian churches, three luxury hotels, and a housing complex were shockingly decimated. There has been no catastrophic terrorism event in Sri Lanka of this magnitude since 2009 when the nation was at war with Tamil insurgents.
The Sri Lankan Government’s implementation of a curfew was an important preventative measure that combated aggressive flare-ups in a divided Negombo community. Whereas inefficacious social media constraints have weakened press freedoms and threatened to have similar censorships take place without opposition. From the response to this tragedy, it is clear that the boundaries between social control and security are blurred. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka now has the opportunity to draft meaningful law reform to criminalize Islamic radicalization to lessen any similar security threats in the future.
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