The country is under a state of emergency. Social media have been blocked to prevent the spread of fake news. The country’s Catholic bishops urge people "not let no one add fuel to fire”. Sri Lankans must learn from the past to avoid plunging the country into a new conflict.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Various rights groups and Christian associations have called on the Sri Lankan government to restore public order as quickly as possible.
At present, the country is on the verge of a new civil war, after serious sectarian violence broke out in Kandy following the death of a Buddhist Sinhalese. This triggered revenge attacks by some Sinhalese, who began setting fire to Muslim shops and homes.
As a result, police have arrested Amith Jeewan Weerasingha (picture 3), the main suspect in sparking the violence, and nine accomplices. Meanwhile, in the capital Colombo, civil society groups staged a protest against racism, calling for a return to peace.
The groups include the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (NHRCSL), the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL).
Two days ago, the authorities declared a state of emergency across the island and imposed a curfew in Kandy district. This gives security forces the power to arrest and detain people for a long period of time.
Yesterday, the government blocked the Internet and social media to prevent the spread of fake news.
In a statement, Sri Lanka’s Catholic bishops call on all political and civic leaders to cooperate in a spirit of dialogue and understanding to prevent a disastrous conflict.
“It is destructive to give religious twists to isolated incidents,” their statement reads. Otherwise, this leaves “room to extremists to create a conflagration. Let no one add fuel to fire.”
“Such acts,” the statement says, “will not protect the country, religions or race but rather insult, discredit and betray them”.
“Considering that this country has a multi ethnic and multi religious co composition, we need to promote and foster harmony to live in peace.”
“Having learnt from our past experiences, we should look at all incidents as having potential to unleash violence. Therefore, let us be realistic, humane and compassionate in dealing with events of this nature.”
In a similar statement, the NCEASL urges the different communities to abstain from taking the law into their own hands whilst expressing its solidarity with the victims of violence.
It also reminds the President, the Prime Minister and the government of their commitment to peace and harmony and its zero-tolerance policy against hate speech and religious violence.
“We call upon all communities to come together in defence of communal harmony, pluralism, and justice,” and urge “all political parties to desist from exploiting the current situation for undue political gain”.
The bishop of Galle makes an appeal during Lent to the faithful “not [to] confine ourselves only to external rituals”. Stronger ties of brotherhood can lead to peace in society. Tamils and Sinhalese share religious ethnic traits. People must overcome the desire to find culprits. A new mindset is needed.