Police and politicians accused of joining anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka: Police and politicians in Sri Lanka have been found to be allegedly involved in the violence that broke out in Kandy, the central highlands district that was known for its diversity and tolerance. The anti-Muslim riots had left mosques, homes and shops belonging to Muslims in the country destructed.

According to the witnesses, officials and closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, the ‘police and politicians backed by the country’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa had joined anti-Muslim riots,’ quoted news agency Reuter. After almost a decade, Sri Lanka had seen a state of emergency being imposed. The social media platform, that became a carrier for hate speech and fuel to the riots by fringe Buddhist extremists, remained shut during the week for the government to take the situation under control.

Victims and witnesses, whose accounts were partly backed by CCTV footage, described members of an elite paramilitary police unit, the Special Task Force (STF), assaulted a Muslim cleric and leaders. “They came to attack,” said A.H. Ramees, a cleric at a mosque. The worshippers say they were beaten by police who were supposed to protect them. “They were shouting. There was filthy language. They said all the problems were because of us, that we were like terrorists,” Ramees said.

Sri Lanka’s Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara had said the violence in Kandy was “well organised” and pointed the finger at members of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a political party backed by Rajapaksa.

The riots had emerged after a Buddhist truck driver was attacked by four Muslim men over a traffic dispute on Feb 22.

A CCTV footage clip showed police letting a large group of men through the cordon protecting the Noor Jummah mosque in Digana, a Kandy township. They entered into a multi-storey building opposite the mosque. A local SLPP politician, Samantha Perera, can be seen in the footage pointing at the higher floors of the building. Perera confirmed he was the person shown in the footage but he was trying to calm the rioters.

Cabinet spokesman and member of parliament Rajitha Senaratne said Samatha Perera, a local Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPP) politician was under investigation for “attacking Muslim-owned shops and mosques with stones”