The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has expressed their concern over the Sri Lankan government’s unofficial patronizing of extremist Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) in their seventh annual report on Islamophobia.
“In the midst of this ever escalating Islamophobic sentiment, the Sri Lankan government whilst not officially patronising the BBS and its associated Sinhala-Nationalist mobs, has shown few signs of disowning the group or taking any serious action against it,” the report notes, taking into account the incidents that occurred between October 2013 – April 2014.
The OIC Observatory report on Islamophobia that was released on Wednesday at the commencement of the 41st session of the Council of Foreign Ministers in Jeddah, KSA has stated that the situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka is of concern to the OIC, as the persecution and discrimination against Muslims has turned a part of the local behavior.
It has also highlighted the lack of action by law enforcement authorities concerning the attacks on Muslims and their property.
“The police have been shown, time and time again, standing by as stone-throwing mobs attack Muslims and Muslim property. On the few occasions in which arrests have been publically called for, the accusations have been dropped prior to any arrests taking place. . .”
Moreover, the report has also pointed out the ban imposed by the government on Halal certification due to pressure exerted by BBS and other Sinhala nationalist, hardline groups.
We publish below the relevant section in full;
The Situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka
The situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka49 is of concern to the OIC, as the persecution and discrimination against Muslims became part of the local behavior. An article by Lewis Garland,a British freelance journalist and social justice activist, titled “The rise of red-robed Islamophobia in Sri Lanka”50, sums-up the issue:
Anti-Muslim fervour is now rife among the majority Sinhalese population, stirred and fed by the firebrand propaganda of extremist Buddhist-Sinhalese nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) – The Buddhist Strength Force.
(…)Sri Lanka’s Muslim community have been subjected to repeated attacks, including rotten meat being thrown into mosques during prayers, mosques being tagged with obscene graffiti, death threats, arson and Muslim-owned businesses being vandalized by marauding mobs.
These attacks have been driven by a series of high-profile hate campaigns targeting Sri Lanka’s Muslim community and their practices. As Javid Yusef, founding Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat for Muslims in Sri Lanka explained to me, the BBS have manufactured ‘distrust of the Muslims among Sinhala Buddhists by spreading untruths, half-truths and lies among the populace’. These have included advocating a ban on both Hijab and Halal meat certification and campaigns encouraging the Sinhalese community to boycott Muslim-owned shops and businesses (based on claims ranging from the false: that shop-owners have been concertedly converting their female Buddhist employees to Islam, to the nonsensical: that shop-owners were giving free miscarriage-inducing sweets to their Sinhalese customers).
The BBS has frequently advocated vigilantism and in one rally which boasted a crowd of over 10,000, the organization’s secretary, Gnanasara Thero, called on followers to become ‘an unofficial civilian police force against Muslim extremism’.
In the midst of this ever escalatingIslamophobic sentiment, the Sri Lankan government, whilst not officiallypatronising the BBS and its associated Sinhala-Nationalist mobs, has shown few signs of disowning the group or taking any serious action against it. The police have been shown, time and time again, standing by as stone-throwing mobs attack Muslims and Muslim property. On the few occasions in which arrests have been publically called for, the accusations have been dropped prior to any arrests taking place. Moreover, the government has bowed to pressure over the Halal issue resulting in an effective ban on Halal certification.
In fact, in the period under review, there have been reports of several other incidents targeting Muslims 52 as shown in the blog Islamophobia Today:
- BBS – Back on the Road with Anti-Halal Campaign Again – The BoduBalaSena was back on the road again pledging to recommence its anti-Halal agitation that resulted in widespread Islamophobia and violence against the Muslim minority community the first time it unfolded in January 2013.52
- Muslim women’s attire under attack in Sri Lanka – Hate groups in Sri Lanka have made the attire of Muslim women a key target in their onslaught against Muslims. They have used security and the need for uniformity as reasons to attack Muslim female attire such as the hijab, the punjabi attire and the niqab. Although the Ministry of Education by a directive issued in 1980 permitted Muslim girls to go to school attired in a punjabi attire, since 2009, school authorities have prohibited this in many schools in the country. Various excuses have been made out such as the need for uniformity or the simple and oft used one ‘this is a Buddhist school/country’. On a separate incident, University of Moratuwa stopped three Muslim girls from attending the university because of the niqab. Two students filed cases in the Supreme Court in SC (FR) 424/2013 and SC (FR) 427/2013. Both these matters were fixed for support on 29 April 2014. One student made an application to the National Human Rights Commission, which took the matter for inquiry on 19 February 2014.53
- BBS to Rescue Anti-Muslim Unqualified Janadipathi Balika Vidyalaya Principal – Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary Galagoda Atte Gnananasara on 18 March 2014 defended the actions of Nayana Thakshila Perera who earlier forced two Muslim students to remove their attire which was in accordance with Education Ministry Circulars and Supreme Court orders, and ordered them to worship her. The BBS secretary ignoring the fact that Perera had forced the students to worship her, and was also an unqualified politically appointed Principal, addressed a Press Conference on the same day and said the Muslim ministers were harassing the Principal.54