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Muslim people in Sri Lanka are being targeted with arbitrary arrests after the Easter Church attacks in the country in April. The Easter massacres, claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were a series of suicide bomb attacks targeted at churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, killing more than 250 people and injuring over 500 more. According to Al Jazeera, since the attacks, 2,289 people –1,820 of which are Muslim have been arrested in connection to the Easter bombings or related incidents, arrests that many are calling arbitrary and unwarranted.
The Sri Lankan government has responded to the arrests through Deepika Udugama, from The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, who acknowledged the complaints and said “We are deeply concerned and will write to the acting inspector general of police … with examples of such arrests and the recommendations.”
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader who quit after the Easter attacks, Rauff Hakeem, has also responded to the arrests, saying “It is true that the perpetrators of the April 21st bombings were from our community, but from the first day onwards, the Muslim community have assisted the Tri-Forces in rooting out these individuals, yet we have also suffered immensely during this process.”
Mufti Rizvi, leader of the All Ceylon Jammiathul Ulema, an organization advocating for Muslims’ civil rights in Sri Lanka responded as well, highlighting the arbitrary nature of the arrests and the growing suspicion towards Muslims in the area since the attacks, “An elderly man was arrested for having a Quranic verse, a poor woman was arrested for wearing a dress which had the pattern of a ship’s wheel and a pregnant lady was arrested for wanting to vomit. How can you expect de-radicalization to happen in the country if this continues?”
Additionally, The European Union has commented on the arrests, stating they are “deeply concerned by the political and religious pressure being directed at Sri Lanka’s Muslim community which is undermining peace and reconciliation in the country”. Comments by the EU show the growing global concern of increased persecution of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.
The arbitrary arrests of Muslims in Sri Lanka are cause for concern. Through targeting Muslims, the country continues to marginalize religious minorities and slows the progress of healing from the tragedy of the bombings. Further persecution and poor treatment of the muslim community will cause more violence in the area and does not promote de-radicalization or an inclusive environment to enact change or growth. Additionally, the arbitrary arrests cause tension between the small Muslim population and the police, which is concerning, especially in a time when Muslims in Sri Lanka are being targeted by other citizens because of their faith.
The pattern of violence and prejudice towards the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has been furthered by the attacks, however, there has been a history of Sri Lankan nationalists inciting violence against minority religious communities. According to Al Jazeera less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka identifies as Muslim.
The persecution of Muslims in Sri Lanka, is strengthening racial divisions in the country and slowing the process of healing as a country from the attacks. The government has not acted to end the arbitrary arrests in Sri Lanka, or to end any form discrimination towards the Muslim community. The Muslim community in Sri Lanka continues to grow increasingly vulnerable, especially as the arbitrary arrests go largely without condemnation from the government. It will be hard for the country to heal unless acceptance, tolerance, and a sense of trust are improved; until then division in Sri Lanka will continue to grow.