Mosques attacked in Sri Lanka town after Facebook row, curfew imposed

Source: Reuters/Agencies | By I.G. Bhatkali | Published on 14th May 2019, 12:25 AM | Global News |

COLOMBO - Several dozen people threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned stores and a local man was beaten in the town of Chilaw on Sri Lanka’s west coast on Sunday in a dispute that started on Facebook, sources told Reuters.

“A police curfew has been imposed in Chilaw Police area with immediate effect until 6 a.m. tomorrow to control the tense situation,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told Reuters. The police later said the curfew would be lifted at 4 a.m.

A screenshot of the alleged Facebook exchange seen by Reuters showed a user had written in Sinhalese “It is difficult to make us cry” and added a local slur against Muslim men.

A Facebook user identified as Hasmar Hameed, whom two locals said was the man later arrested, replied in English: “Dont laugh more 1 day u will cry.”

Authorities said they arrested the author of a Facebook post, identifying him as 38-year-old Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar. Locals in Chilaw, a majority Christian town, said Hasmar’s post was interpreted as menacing and an angry crowd beat him.

Police said there were sporadic incidents of mobs pelting stones and torching motorcycles and cars owned by Muslims. In the town of Hettipola, at least three shops were torched.

Police and troops fought off hundreds of rioters in at least six towns earlier Monday with teargas.
"Several shops have been attacked," a senior police officer told AFP. "When mobs tried to attack mosques, we fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse them."

"There is a strong political element to the riots today. There are people trying to make political capital out of this situation."

Earlier, authorities banned Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms after overnight riots gripped several towns in the region including Chilaw.

Christian groups attacked Muslim-owned shops in a sign of the heightened tensions since suicide bombers attacked three hotels and three churches on April 21 killing 258 people.

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