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Wed, 13 Nov 2019 17:54 GMT

Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media After Anti-Muslim Riots

Counterterrorism & Security

7Dnews London

Mon, 13 May 2019 10:26 GMT

Sri Lanka blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on May 13th after anti-Muslim riots hit several towns in the latest fallout from the Easter Sunday suicide attacks, AFP has reported.

Christian groups attacked Muslim-owned shops in a sign of the continued religious tension in Sri Lanka since the April 21st attacks by jihadist suicide bombers on three hotels and three churches which left 258 dead. 

A state of emergency has been in place since the bombings, which the Isis group claims to have helped, and security forces have been given sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods. 

Police said a mob targeted shops in the north-west town of Chilaw on May 12th in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd but the violence spread to nearby towns where Muslim businesses were also attacked. 

A motorcycle gang attacked shops in nearby Kuliyapitiya and four members were arrested, officials said. However, dozens of people laid siege to the police station and forced their release. Despite a night curfew, a mosque was vandalised, local residents said. 

Police said the curfew in Chilaw and nearby areas was relaxed on May 13th but the social media ban was brought in to head off new violence. 

The main body of Islamic clerics, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), said there was increased suspicion of Muslims after the Easter attacks carried out by local extremists. 

Internet service providers said they have been instructed by the telecommunications regulator to block access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and other platforms. 

The latest unrest came as Catholic churches resumed Sunday masses for the first time since the bombings. Worshippers were searched before being allowed into churches that were guarded by armed police and troops. There were no reports of disruption to services, however.

Dozens of people have been detained since the Easter Sunday attacks, and amid the heightened security, police have banned parking near schools and students are allowed in only after checking for explosives. 

Muslims make up around 10% of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka's 21 million population and Christians about 7.6%.