Muslim parliamentarians in Sri Lanka joined together on Friday to ask President Mahinda Rajapaksa to stop radical Buddhist groups in the country from harassing the minority community.
In a letter signed by 16 of the 18 Muslim parliamentarians in the country, the legislators asked the president to intervene and halt the ongoing attacks on Muslims by “Buddhist extremist elements.”
“We wish to bring to your Excellency’s kind attention the continued hate campaign, intimidation and threats to Muslims, carried out by some Buddhist extremist elements of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Sinhala Ravaya and Ravana Balakaya organisations,” said the letter.
The parliamentarians said that these groups have been targeting Muslim places of worship, Halal food, the Muslim attire and since of late, the resettlement of Muslims who were displaced during the country’s three decade war against the Tamil Tiger terrorists.
Over a 100,000 men, women and children were evicted from Northern Sri Lanka by the Tamil Tigers in 1990 in the worst act of ethnic cleansing in the history of the country. Recent attempts at resettling these internally displaced persons (IDPs) have led to a fresh wave of attacks on the Muslim community by the radical Buddhist group, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).
Addressing claims by the BBS that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka is being “funded” by Islamic countries, the legislators explained that “in the absence of any substantial support for their resettlement” from the government, funds have been solicited from “benevolent donors of Muslim countries and individuals.”
Attacks on mosques, churches and Muslim organisations by extremist Buddhist monks escalated in the past three years in the island where Buddhists constitute 70 per cent of the total population. Buddhist monks have been condemned by the international community for their public hate speeches, inciting people to attack Muslims who make up just 10 per cent of the population.
Last month, the larger Buddhist community of Sri Lanka condemned the BBS for threatening to physically assault a moderate senior Buddhist monk advocating religious tolerance during a press briefing.
The extremist Buddhist monk-led groups claim that the Muslims of the country are taking over the wealth of the nation and changing the religious demography of the country by encouraging larger families than their Sinhalese counterparts.
In January this year President Rajapaksa for the first time, warned Buddhist monks to stop inciting racial violence. On Monday a new religious police unit to investigate hate crimes was established.
The call comes after several local and international bodies blamed the president and his brother, the powerful Defence secretary Gotabhya Rajapaksa for backing the radical Buddhist groups.
In March this year, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution against Sri Lanka asking for an external, international inquiry over the country’s human rights records, highlighting its concerns for religious freedom in the island.