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Continued harassment of Muslims could prove detrimental to Sri Lanka: Amnesty International

ECONOMYNEXT – Continued harassment of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority could prove detrimental to the country, global human rights watch-dog Amnesty International warned.

In a report released last week (June 6), Amnesty International highlighted a series of alleged incidents of harassment targeting the island’s Muslims, including the alleged discriminatory handling of COVID-19 deaths as well as the recent arrest of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.

“With the new government still in its first year, the frequent incidents of demonisation, vilification and scapegoating of Sri Lanka’s Muslim population are a cause for great concern. Should incidents against the Muslim community continue, Sri Lanka runs the risk of alienating another minority group, much to its detriment,” the group said in its report.

With the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world, Amnesty said, Sri Lanka appears to have arbitrarily targeted the Muslim community.

“The first Muslim death due to COVID-19 took place in Negombo, on 30 March, and the body was forcibly cremated by health officials, against the wishes of his family. This was despite efforts from his family, the Muslim community, religious and political leaders to urge health officials to adhere to the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health guidelines, which at the time allowed for both burials and cremations.”

Recalling more cases, the rights group noted that, on May 21, 20 Muslim groups called on Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health to revoke the gazette making cremations mandatory, citing that more than 185 countries permit burial, and that there was no consultation with the affected communities.

In a concept proposal for a COVID-19 exit strategy presented to President Gotabaya, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) and the Information and Communication Technology Agency Sri Lanka (ICTA), identified the Muslim population as a variable in their methodology to determine the risk of spread of COVID-19 in each district.

Amnesty International accused the GMOA and ICTA of racially profiling Muslim patients in their report.

“The report assigned the highest weightage of risk to the ‘Muslim population’. The racial profiling in the report was met with heavy criticism on social media, causing ICTA to disassociate itself with the report. The GMOA has since deleted the earlier report, and the revised version, does not bear the ICTA name or logo, does not mention ‘Muslim population’, or has replaced it with the term ‘population density’,” the Amnesty report said.

The watchdog also called into question the presidential task force appointed recently to survey archaeological sites in the Eastern Province.

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“Considering the concerns emerging from disputes over Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian archeological sites, the appointment of this Task Force, headed by retired military personnel may exacerbate this politicised and ethnicised issue which was a key factor in the inception of the civil war,” the report said, adding that appointing a businessman who runs a media organisation known for an alleged Sinhala-Buddhist bias was cause for concern.

On the recent arrest of lawyer Hizbullah, who is currently being detained without charge, Amnesty International said both it and Sri Lankan civil society groups have strongly criticized the manner in which his arrest was carried out “without due process”,

“Hizbullah was not informed of the reason for his arrest or the charges against him. A detention order, dated 17 April, stated that Hizbullah was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 under suspicion of terror related activities. A vocal critic of the government on human rights issues, particularly on minority rights, Hizbullah also represented Dr [Mohammed] Shafi in the case against the latter on suspicion of forced sterilization in 201980.”

Click here for the full report. (Colombo/Jun16/2020)

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