COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka expressed alarm at rising hate speech and attacks against Muslims in the island nation and warned that such sentiments should not be allowed to fester.
Hate speeches, vilification and even attacks on Muslim-owned businesses and places of worship by Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalist groups have occurred in recent months, and inaction by the government and police has spurred allegations that the government supports the campaign, which it denies.
"(The) United States, along with many Sri Lankan citizens, is alarmed by the recent attacks on Muslim businesses and certain inflammatory calls to action," Ambassador Michele J. Sison told foreign correspondents in Colombo on Monday.
"This type of hateful sentiment must not be allowed to fester," she said, adding that the voices of tolerance must join to defeat extremism.
A U.S.-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the U.N. Human Rights Council last month also expressed concern over religious discrimination.
Groups led by Buddhist monks have spread allegations that Muslims are dominating businesses and trying to take over the country demographically by increasing their birthrate and secretly sterilizing Sinhalese-Buddhists. Muslims make up 9 percent of Sri Lanka's population, while Sinhalese-Buddhists make up almost 75 percent of the country's 20 million people.
A Muslim volunteer group that wishes not to be named for fear of reprisals has documented 33 incidents since 2011 including attacks on places of worship.
Sison also expressed concern over continued threats and attacks against local media nearly four years after the end of a civil war and the authorities' inability to resolve the numerous killings, abductions and assaults against journalists.
"I know that this room full of journalists is only too aware that attacks against the media continue to this day, and that suspects are rarely apprehended – or, if apprehended, are almost never convicted," she said.
According to Amnesty International, at least 14 journalists and media staff have been killed by suspected government paramilitaries and rebels since the beginning of 2006. Others have been detained, tortured or have disappeared and 20 more have fled the country because of death threats, it said.
The civil war waged by Tamil Tiger rebels to create an independent state ended in 2009 after government troops defeated the rebel group.
Last week masked men armed with clubs attacked workers inside the Uthayan newspaper office in the country's former war zone. The newspaper that has supported self-rule for ethnic minority Tamils was targeted in frequent attacks during the civil war.