Two years of Easter bombings: Lanka legalises deradicalisation law, mulls burqa ban to fight 'Islamic terrorism'

·4-min read
Representative image
Representative image

New Delhi [India], April 3 (ANI): From mulling burqa ban to de-radicalisation law, the Sri Lankan government has taken several steps as part of a crackdown against 'Islamic extremism' in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019.

On April 21, 2019, three churches in Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in the capital Colombo were targeted in a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bombings. Over 250 people were killed and scores suffered injuries.

The attacks revived the memories of blood bath and violence of decades-old civil war, which ended in 2009.

The bombings shook the world and shifted the priority of the Sri Lankan government to national security. After the attacks, the government came under tremendous pressure to keep surveillance on Muslims and ban burqa in the country.

Several hardcore Buddhist monks advocated the ban, calling it an un-Sri Lankan practice.

President Gotayaba Rajapaksha said that his government is responsible for the national security of the country and there is no room for terrorism of Tamil separatism or Islamic extremism to rise again in the country.

Since taking office, President Rajapaksha has implemented several laws to tackle "Islamic terrorism".

Sri Lanka has recently legalised a "de-radicalisation" law which rights groups see as another weapon targeting dissidents and minorities in the fractured nation.

The government said it will ban Islamic face coverings and announced the closure of more than 1,000 Islamic schools.

Members of the Muslim community, which constitute 10 per cent of the Sri Lankan total population, say they live in considerable fear of being taken into custody on charges of fomenting extremism.

According to the government, a total of 676 persons were arrested in connection with the Easter attacks, of whom 202 remain in remand custody, 66 have been detained for questioning and 408 released on bail, yet investigations on them are continuing.

Soon after the bombings, several attacks were carried out against Sri Lanka's Muslim community across the island. At least one person was killed in those attacks.

In Negombo, where many Muslim-owned businesses and homes were destroyed, Muslim community leaders told Al Jazeera that tensions had begun to subside, with the city's Muslim and Christian communities beginning to reunite.

The Easter Sunday attacks altered the tone of presidential election campaigns, in the run-up to the country's 2019 November polls.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who announced his candidacy soon after the attacks, was sworn in as the country's president following that election.

Ahead of the second anniversary of the 2019 bombings, the Sri Lankan government announced that it will ban the burqa and will shut down over 1,000 Islamic schools.

The minister of public security, Sarath Weerasekara, stated that the decisions to ban the burqa and close Islamic schools was due to the fact that he felt it had a "direct impact on national security" and that the face-covering was a sign of "religious extremism."

The wearing of the burqa was previously temporarily banned following the Easter bombings.

In March 2020, the government implemented a policy on forced cremation of people who died of COVID-19, citing that burials could contaminate groundwater. The cremation of bodies is forbidden in Islam. Widespread criticism and fury prompted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to declare an end to forced cremation in February 2021.

Last month, Sri Lanka legalised using controversial anti-terror law to punish people indulging in religious extremism and has also allowed detainment of suspects for two years on charges of "deradicalisation".

The regulation broadly allows the authorities to detain and "rehabilitate" anyone who "by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations" causes the commission of violence or "religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups.

US-based Human Rights Watch accused the Rajapaksa administration of using the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other laws to target members of minority communities, especially Muslims and Tamils, while taking no action against those inciting violence and discrimination against minority groups.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, has accused Rajapaksa of politicisation of probe into Easter bombings.

A presidential inquiry commission has handed its final report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has shared parts of it with Catholic and Buddhist religious leaders.

However, Ranjith, said the report had concentrated more on the failures of the then-government in preventing the attacks despite early warnings, rather than finding out the handlers of the groups accused of carrying out the bombings. (ANI)