Legal Correspondent: Reeti Shetty
18th October, 2021: According to a recent report issued by Amnesty International, Sri Lanka's Muslim community has faced constant discrimination, harassment, and violence since 2013, culminating in the approval of government measures overtly targeting the minority population. The report titled "From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies: Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination, and Violence in Sri Lanka” have described these incidents in detail.
Since 2013, incidents of violence against Muslims have been on the rise, with a succession of conflicts in which assailants and others responsible for hate speech have been let off scot-free. The anti-halal campaign that was conducted in the same year, when Sinhala Buddhist nationalist parties successfully fought and managed to eliminate the halal status of food, which denotes food suitable for eating by Muslims in line with Islamic scripture and traditions, marked the start of the rising antagonism. After the same organization organized a protest in the town the following year, anti-Muslim violence broke out in the southern coastal town of Aluthgama. Similarly, perpetrators of violence were free to act without any fear of punishment, while authorities failed to provide justice to victims. Despite the election of a new administration in 2015, which made promises of providing equality, fairness, and justice, violence against Muslims continued. After more than 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide strikes by a local Islamist group and claimed by the Islamic State on Easter Sunday 2019, anti-Muslim sentiment spiked. According to the report, the present administration has continued to target and blame the Muslim minority for diverting attention away from political and economic difficulties since gaining power. This discrimination was made clear by the necessary cremation policy for disposing of Covid-19 victims' bodies, even though cremation is strictly forbidden in Islam. Human rights organizations, including the UN Human Rights Council, had previously chastised the government for the cremation order, which was later rescinded.
Furthermore, according to the Amnesty report, existing legislation in Sri Lanka "targets Muslims," notably the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which enables suspects to be jailed without charge for up to 90 days and without access to a lawyer, has contributed to the violence. Furthermore, the misuse of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act, which forbids the spreading of racial or religious hatred that amounts to incitement to discrimination, has added to the woes of the minority.
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