Anti-Muslim riots broke out in Sri Lanka. The government responds with a curfew and the blocking of social media.
Since the Easter attacks, security has been tightened at Sri Lanka’s religious sites, here a church in Colombo. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/ap
Sri Lanka’s government again ordered social media blocked Monday after a possibly misleading post on Facebook sparked anti-Muslim riots in the western coastal town of Chilaw over the weekend. The small town 80 kilometers north of Colombo has a high Christian population. A mob attacked mosques there over the weekend, as well as stores owned by Muslims.
Police imposed a curfew that lasted until Monday morning. In addition, the police presence in the city was increased. The Reuters news agency also reported anti-Muslim riots on Sunday evening from the district capital Kurunegala, which is located further west. The population there is predominantly Buddhist. In early May, riots already occurred in Ngombo, which lies between Chilaw and Colombo.
On Monday, authorities then temporarily blocked Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, Viper and Snapchat to "prevent social unrest caused by hate messages and misinformation," according to a government spokesman.
The situation in Sri Lanka has remained tense since the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels claimed by the "Islamic State" terrorist organization, which left 258 people dead and 500 injured.
No access to Facebook because of rumors and hatred
Immediately after the attacks by nine suicide bombers, the government had already blocked social networks nationwide as a precautionary measure to suppress the spread of rumors and hatred. The block was lifted again after a few days.
Last Sunday, Catholic churches celebrated services in public again for the first time under strict security measures. On Monday, elementary schools also reopened. However, many classes are said to have remained empty because parents refused to send their children to school.
The unrest in Chilaw reportedly began after a dispute over a post on Facebook. A Muslim businessman had been arrested after his online comment ("One day you will cry") was taken as a threat. Soon dozens of people were throwing stones at mosques, stores and houses of Muslims.
In Sri Lanka, more than 70 percent of the population are Buddhists, 12 percent are Hindus, 10 percent are Muslims and 7 percent are Christians. Until Easter, the relationship between Muslims and Christians was relaxed.