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Sri Lanka blocks social media after anti-Muslim attacks

Mobile phones were unable to connect to social media services on Monday (Getty)

Date of publication: 13 May, 2019

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Sri Lankan authorities have temporarily blocked Facebook, Whatsapp, and other social media and messaging services following anti-Muslim attacks which started over a Facebook post.

Sri Lanka has temporarily blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and some other social media networks and messaging apps after attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, in the worst unrest since the 21 April Easter bombings.

Security has been stepped up as fears grow that the country’s Muslim minority could face sectarian persecution after Islamist extremists blew themselves up in four hotels and three churches.

"Social media blocked again as a temporary measure to maintain peace in the country," Nalaka Kaluwewa, director general of the government information department, told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

On Twitter, Sri Lanka's leading mobile phone operator, Dialog Axiata Plc, said it had received government instructions to block the apps Viber, IMO, Snapchat, Instagram and Youtube until further notice.

On Sunday, dozens of people threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned stores and a man was beaten in the Christian-majority town of Chilaw on the west coast in a dispute that started on Facebook, police sources and residents told Reuters.

Authorities said that they had arrested the author of a Facebook post, 38-year-old Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, whose comment "1 day u will cry" was considered by some people to be threatening violence.

A group of men were also arrested late on Sunday night in the city of Kurunegala in eastern Sri Lanka  on charges of attacking Muslim-owned businesses in the area.

Military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said people in the mostly Buddhist city then demanded the men's release.

"To control the situation, a police curfew was imposed during the night," Atapattu added.

A number of mosques and Muslim homes were damaged in Kurunegala, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said, but the precise extent of damage and the number of arrests was not immediately clear.

The attacks escalated due to a delayed response from police, a resident and a mosque official who wished to remain anonymous said.

"The attack continued for nearly two hours and they attacked one house also in the village. There were hundreds of attackers," said a resident of the Muslim-majority town of Kiniyama in western Sri Lanka. Kiniyama is surrounded by Buddhist villages.

Harassment

The main mosque in Kiniyama was attacked, a copy of the Quran was dragged along the ground and two motorcycles parked nearby were burned, he added.

A mosque official in Kiniyama said the attacks were triggered when several people, including some Buddhist monks, demanded a search of a 105-acre (43-hectare) pond near the main mosque.

"When Muslims tried to prevent the attack, we were asked by police to go inside," the mosque official said. 

Since the bombings, Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints from Muslims about harassment.

Other communities in the multi-confessional country say that they fear that the government has not caught all potential Islamist militants.

A violent clash between Muslims and Christians erupted a week ago in the west coast city of Negombo, the site of one of the suicide attacks that killed more than 100 people during Easter prayers.

The government also imposed a ban on social media after that clash.

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