Sri Lanka’s police Tuesday stepped in to prevent a local council from banning Muslim traders from a weekly fair in another backlash from the devastating Easter attacks blamed on Islamic extremists.
The local government body had ordered minority Muslims not to participate in the farmer’s market in the town of Dankotuwa, 47 kilometres north of the capital.
‘We got a court order against the Wennappuwa Pradeshiya Saba (council) because we can’t allow this Islamophobia,’ local police Superintendent KAB Kumarapeli said by telephone.
He said the local council chairman representing a political party affiliated to former president Mahinda Rajapakse ordered Muslims to stay away, saying their presence could trigger violence in the region.
The region has a high concentration of Christians who suffered the most in the April 21 suicide bombings that targeted three churches and three hotels. At least 258 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded in the attacks.
However, police said there was no basis for Tuesday’s action by the council when communal tensions had eased and the region was returning to normality after several days of anti-Muslim riots last month.
‘We have asked courts to take action against the council chairman for causing tension between communities,’ Kumarapeli said adding that a hearing has been scheduled for Friday.
Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency since the Easter Sunday suicide bombings blamed on a local jihadi group which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
At least one Muslim man was killed and hundreds of Muslim-owned businesses, homes, vehicles and mosques were destroyed in the riots last month.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International raised on Tuesday fresh concerns that Sri Lanka may soon end a 42-year moratorium on capital punishment and hang 13 men convicted of drug offences.
The London-based rights group said it was ‘alarmed’ over media reports of preparations to resume hangings although the country still does not have a qualified hangman.
‘Sri Lanka’s president Maithripala Sirisena must immediately halt his plans to resume executions for at least 13 prisoners convicted of drug-related crimes,’ Amnesty said in a statement.
Sirisena in February announced he would carry out the first executions in 42 years within less than two months, but he is yet to sign any death warrant, officials said.
He said this was in response to spiralling narcotics-related crime inspired by president Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.
The president has also appealed to human rights organisations not to pressure him on his decision.
Criminals in Sri Lanka are regularly handed death sentences for murder, rape and drug-related crimes but since 1976 their punishments have been commuted to life imprisonment.
The justice ministry which is responsible for the correctional system said more than a dozen people had been shortlisted to fill the vacancy for an executioner, but no formal appointment has been made.
While Sri Lanka’s last execution was more than four decades ago, an executioner was in post until his retirement in 2014. Three replacements since have quit after short stints at the unused gallows.
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