CAIRO - An international human rights group has decried the arrest of a prominent Sri Lankan Muslim politician who accused the government of sponsoring Buddhist nationalist groups in carrying out a series of anti-Muslim campaigns.
Azad Sally's arrest, and the harassment he has faced over the past weeks, is indicative of the climate of fear government critics in Sri Lanka are forced to live under, Polly Truscott, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific Director, said in a news release quoted by Sri Lanka Guardian on Friday, May 3.
He must be released immediately or charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence.
Sally, the leader of Sri Lanka's newly formed Muslim Tamil National Alliance, was reportedly taken into custody on Thursday morning by the intelligence services for unknown reasons.
He is known an outspoken critic of a Buddhist organization, Bodu Bala Sena, which has since February 2013 allegedly attacked Muslim and Christian religious establishments and agitated against certain religious practices.
On 29 April, he told journalists he was in hiding because he feared for his safety after receiving threats in state-run media.
He has been campaigning to end oppressive practices against minorities in Sri Lanka, in particular Muslims and Tamils, for which he has faced the ire of the Sri Lankan government, Truscott said.
The hardline Buddhist, "Bodu Bala Sena" or Buddhist Force, has led a series of attacks on Sri Lanka Muslim minority.
Last March, the hardline group called for the demolition of a 10th century mosque in Kuragala.
The call for destroying the ancient mosque comes shortly after the group campaigned against halal food in Sri Lanka, forcing Muslims to abandon halal logo to help ease tension with the Buddhist majority.
The arrest of Sally was also denounced by Amnesty International as reflecting the government's intensifying crackdown on dissenting views.
Sally appears to be the latest victim in the intensifying crackdown on dissenting views we have seen in recent years, motivated by the government's desire to tighten its grip on power, said Truscott, AI Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
Journalists, the judiciary, human rights workers and opposition politicians like Sally are among those who have been targeted through threats, harassment and vicious violent attacks.
The international group urged Commonwealth leaders to cancel their participation in the Commonwealth Summit hosted by Sri Lanka government in November.
Commonwealth leaders must take a stronger stand against the government's violent repression of dissent and its persistent failure to bring to justice those responsible for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, said Truscott.
Sri Lankan Muslims, known as Moors, are the third largest ethnic group in the country after the Sinhalese, who make up 70 percent of the populace, and Tamils, who account for 12.5 percent.
Analysts say successive governments have been under pressure to give in to the Buddhist majority whenever there is an ethnic clash.
Sri Lanka has been thrown into tension following a string of serious incidents involving extremist Buddhist provocations against Muslims.
In June, some 200 demonstrators led by several dozen Buddhist monks converged on a small Islamic center in Colombo's suburb of Dehiwala.
Throwing stones and rotten meat over the mosque gate, protestors shouted slogans demanding the closure of the Muslim worship place.
Last April, a number of Buddhist monks disrupted Muslim prayer services in the village of Dambulla. The attackers claimed that the mosque, built in 1962, was illegal.
Weeks later, monks drafted a threatening letter aimed at Muslims in the nearby town of Kurunegala, demanding Islamic prayer services there be halted.