Sri Lanka blocks social media and imposes curfew after anti-Muslim attacks

Qadijah Irshad
Sri Lankan security personnel stand guard after the clashes erupted between the two communities in Negombo near Colombo - REX

Sri Lanka temporarily blocked social media networks and messaging apps and imposed a nationwide curfew on Monday after the worst outbreak of anti-Muslim violence since the Easter Sunday attacks. 

The murder of over 250 people by suicide bombers at three churches and three luxury hotels was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  

The riots, apparently sparked by a row on Facebook, began on Sunday as mobs attacked three  mosques and many Muslim-owned businesses in Chilaw, some 40km north of capital Colombo, before the military stepped in.

Nalaka Kaluwewa, the chief of the Information Department said the ban on social media was intended "to prevent misinformation from being circulated and also to prevent spreading of information that would harm communal harmony."

Police said a curfew would be enforced until further notice in the country's North Western region, and until Tuesday morning in the rest of the nation.

The violence in Chilaw spread to the adjoining Buddhist-majority Kurunegala district, where mobs were heard shouting “we will kill you,” while attacking Muslim businesses and homes.

Shops were vandalised in the violence Credit: REX

Kurunegala, the electorate of former president Mahinda Rajapaksha, has been the flashpoint of serious anti-Muslim clashes led by Buddhist extremists in the past.

On Sunday night, a petrol bomb was thrown into a mosque while worshipers were leaving after their Ramadan night prayers in Koslanda, also in the Kurunegala district.

“We now lock the gates after the congregation comes due to security reasons. Just as the congregation was leaving, two men came on a motorbike and threw a petrol bomb that came crashing through the glass,” said a 35-year-old mosque volunteer who did not want to be named.

“It was terrifying because there were still people inside the mosque. Fortunately, it did not detonate because the fuse went off."

The aftermath of the attacks have stirred sectarian tensions in the Buddhist-majority country. Local residents accused Buddhist extremists of being behind some of the violence. 

Military and special forces were deployed on Monday evening to guard mosques in the Kurunegala district, while police held special meetings with Muslim civil communities and mosque authorities to discuss security strategies.

Mosques around the country have been under heavy guard by the military since the Easter bombing attacks. Children under 13 and older people have been asked not to attend prayers, funeral or wedding services in case of emergency evacuations or bombings.