Sri Lanka has detained an opposition Muslim political leader for 90 days under a tough anti-terrorism law, in what a leader of the minority community Monday described as the latest attack against them.
Azath Sally, 49, the former deputy mayor of Colombo and leader of the Muslim National Unity Alliance, was being held under a 90-day detention order, police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.
“The charges are under the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” Siriwardena said, without elaborating.
The United States, which moved a censure motion against Sri Lanka at the March UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, asked Colombo to ensure that Sally had access to lawyers.
“We urge the government of Sri Lanka to ensure Mr. Sally has access to his attorneys and that the rule of law and due process are protected,” US ambassador Michele Sison said in a question and answer session on Twitter.
The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), an umbrella organization of Muslim groups, said Sally was detained on Sunday.
“We have written to the president to release Mr. Sally immediately and make public the charges that are said to have been brought against him,” MCSL leader N.M. Ameen told AFP.
Sally has been a vocal critic of the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse. He blamed the authorities for allowing an anti-Muslim campaign in the Buddhist-majority nation that culminated in an arson attack on two Muslim-owned businesses in March.
“There is a feeling among Muslims that Mr. Sally was arrested because he spoke and stood up against attacks from Buddhist nationalists who targeted Muslim interests,” Ameen said.
“Muslims believe this arrest is the latest attack against their community.”
The arson attacks caused extensive damage to a clothing store and a vehicle yard. But three Buddhist monks and 14 other Buddhists arrested over the attack were later freed after the police and the victims did not press charges.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemned Sally’s arrest under the act, nearly four years after security forces crushed Tamil rebels and ended the island’s decades-old ethnic war.
“The AHRC warns that a new principle is emerging in Sri Lanka now where if anyone is considered as having made a wrong political decision, the government agencies can arrest and detain them,” the Hong Kong-based commission said.
Last week London-based Amnesty International accused Sri Lanka of instilling a climate of fear by stepping up repression — a charge denied by Colombo as a “fascinating piece of fiction”. (AFP)