Sri Lanka Lifts Its State of Emergency
Sri Lanka officially ended its 12-day state of emergency on March 18. The state of emergency was imposed following violent clashes between Buddhist and Muslim groups in Sri Lanka’s central district of Kandy.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena announced on Twitter that the state of emergency had been lifted, claiming that the majority of violence had subsided. “Upon assessing the public safety situation, I instructed to revoke the state of emergency from midnight yesterday,” Sirisena’s tweet read.
The conflict that had spurred the state of emergency began with the death of a Sinhalese Buddhist truck driver earlier this month. The truck driver had been involved in a heated altercation with four Muslim men. In the Buddhist-led attacks that followed, at least two people were killed and over 450 Muslim-owned homes and shops were damaged.
The state of emergency targeted the Kandy district primarily, where the majority of violence was centered, by implementing a curfew over Kandy citizens.
The state of emergency allowed law enforcement officials to arrest those instigating the riots and quell the violence. Hundreds of troops were deployed to the Kandy district alone. So far, almost 300 people have been arrested, including the leader of a hardline Buddhist organization.
When certain groups defied the state of emergency curfew, the troops began to use tear gas.
In addition, Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission also banned popular social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Viber, on March 7. Officials blocked the sites in hopes of curbing “communal hate speech posts,” according to Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Coexistence Dialogue and Official Languages.
Though the ban was originally set to last 3 days, it remained in place until Thursday. The ban was lifted after Sri Lankan officials met with Facebook representatives who, according to a Tweet by President Sirisena, “agreed that [Facebook’ s] platform will not be used for spreading hate speech and inciting violence.”
In the past month alone, there have been numerous clashes between Buddhist and Muslim groups in districts throughout Sri Lanka. At least 5 people were killed in a Buddhist attack in eastern Sri Lanka earlier this month. Additionally, Buddhist-led allegations of Muslim conversion attempts and destruction of important Buddhist sites have skyrocketed.
The tension in Sri Lanka represents a worrying situation for the Indian Ocean island nation, which has had a troubling past with religious-based violence. Sri Lanka ended the 26-year long state of emergency induced by the civil war between the government and Tamil rebels in 2009, just three years before tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in the nation first began to ascend.
Additionally, Sri Lanka’s move to ban social media sites represents a growing consideration of the impact that social media has on communal violence. If the violence between Buddhist and Muslim groups continues in Sri Lanka, a situation that is very likely to occur, it will be interesting to see what stance the government takes on social media usage.
Though Sri Lanka’s state of emergency has formally ended, the tensions that fuel the country’s religious-based violence have not subsided. Sri Lankan officials will have to consider new methods of curbing hateful sentiments if they hope to prevent further outbreaks of violence.