(Vatican Radio) The Sri Lankan government is showing it is taking seriously the growing phenomenon of hate crimes against the country’s minority Muslim population. Police said on Sunday they have arrested 4 people, including a Buddhist monk and a police officer, accused of taking part in an attack on Muslim properties in May. The four belong to the hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a hardline Buddhist organization. which Muslim groups blame for attacks on their businesses and mosques. BBS denies the allegation.
Police spokesman Priyantha Jayakody told reporters the four were caught in a CCTV footage while setting fire to a Muslim-owned book shop and a mosque in Panadura, a suburb of the capital Colombo on May 17. Describing the monk and the police officer as “prominent members of the Bodu Bala Sena” Jayakody said they were arrested with a sword, a hockey stick and equipment used to make petrol bombs. He said they are close associates of extremist BBS leader, Buddhist monk Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera. An arrest warrant has been issued for the arrest of Gnanasara Thera, who is hiding in a safe location, after police linked him to dozens of hate crimes against Muslims establishments since April.
President Maithripala Sirisena's government has come under fire from opposition groups and diplomats for not doing enough to crack down on hardline Buddhist groups and protect Muslims. More than 20 attacks on Muslims, including arson at Muslim-owned businesses and petrol-bomb attacks on mosques, have been recorded since April 17. Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe have ordered police to uphold the law, but violence has continued.
Buddhists make up about 70 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 21 million, compared with around 9 percent for Muslims. Some hardline Buddhist groups accuse Muslims of forcing people to convert to
Jayakody said police had arrested eleven people for hate speech offences this month, including a Muslim for a Facebook post against Buddhism and a Tamil accused of attacking a mosque.
Sri Lanka's Cabinet of Ministers last week directed the law enforcement authorities and the Attorney General to take immediate action against instigators and perpetrators of violence and hate speech against religious and ethnic groups.