Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency on Tuesday amidst mob attacks against the minority Muslim population, resulting in at least one fatality.
Tensions have long existed between Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, and Muslims in the island country. These mob attacks were reportedly sparked by a road rage incident, in which a Sinhalese truck driver was injured by a group of Muslim men, dying later in the hospital. This is Sri Lanka’s first national state of emergency in seven years.
Groups of predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese Sri Lankans–the country’s majority ethnic and religious group– descended on mosques, houses, businesses, and vehicles in the Kandy district.
Abdul Basith, a 27-year-old Muslim man, died while trapped inside his burning house despite the presence of police officers around the building. There were many attacks that occurred when police told Muslims to stay indoors for safety reasons, but failed to adequately protect them and their properties.
“How are minority communities supposed to feel when the police stand by and watch while their houses and their businesses are destroyed by violent mobs?” Sri Lanka’s minister of industry and commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen, told the New York Times.
There are concerns that police officers and the country’s politically powerful Buddhist monks are contributing to unrest.
“Two controversial Buddhist monks who have been at the center of similar anti-minority clashes before had been in the area on Sunday night. We demand their arrest for inciting communal hatred,” Bathiudeen stated.
According to the BBC, the declared state of emergency enforces a curfew and monitors social media channels to control hate speech posts. The situation also gives law enforcement authorities more power to arrest, detain suspects, and deploy extra forces.
These conditions are all too familiar for most Sri Lankans, who lived under a constant state of emergency for decades, until the end of the civil war in 2009.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that tensions have always existed between different ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka. While the tensions are ongoing, they has not always existed. This article was corrected to reflect this.