By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
Several dozen people threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned stores and a man was beaten in the town of Chilaw on the west coast on Sunday in a dispute that started on Facebook, sources told Reuters.
Authorities said they arrested the author of a Facebook post, identified as 38-year-old Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, whose online comment “1 day u will cry” locals said was interpreted as threatening violence.
Authorities arrested a group in the nearby areas of Kuliyapitiya and Dummalasuriya later on Sunday and early on Monday for allegedly attacking Muslim-owned businesses, a police source told Reuters.
Military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said people in the area then demanded the arrested men be released.
“To control the situation, a police curfew was imposed during the night,” Atapattu said.
The flare-up in violence came three weeks after Sri Lankan Islamist bombers blew themselves up in four hotels and three churches, killing more than 250 people.
Since then, Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints from across the country about people being harassed. Other communities say they are fearful that the government, which failed to act on successive warnings about looming Islamist attacks, has not caught all potential militants.
Sri Lanka has used temporary bans on social media in an attempt to curb misinformation and rumours.
“Social media blocked again as a temporary measure to maintain peace in the country,” Nalaka Kaluwewa, the director general of the Department of Government Information, told Reuters on Monday.
A violent clash erupted a week ago in Negombo, where more than 100 people were killed during Easter prayers, between Muslims and Christians after a traffic dispute.
The government also imposed a ban on social media after that clash. (Writing by Alexandra Ulmer Editing by Paul Tait) DM