By Toby Prince
Sri Lanka has temporarily blocked some social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, after a posting sparked anti-Muslim riots across several towns in the latest fallout from the Easter Sunday suicide attacks last month.
Christian groups threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned shops in the northwestern Christian-majority town of Chilaw on Sunday in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper, police said.
Security forces fired shots in the air to disperse mobs, but the violence spread to nearby towns where businesses owned by Muslims were also attacked.
“Social media blocked again as a temporary measure to maintain peace in the country,” Nalaka Kaluwewa, director general of the government information department, told Reuters news agency on Monday.
Police said a night curfew, imposed on Sunday afternoon, in Chilaw and nearby areas was relaxed on Monday, but the social media ban was brought in to prevent incitement to violence.
“Don’t laugh more, 1 day u will cry,” was posted as a comment on Facebook by a Muslim shopkeeper, and local Christians took it to be a warning of an impending attack.
Mobs smashed the man’s shop and vandalised a nearby mosque prompting security forces to fire in the air to disperse the crowd.
Authorities said they arrested the author of the Facebook post, identified as 38-year-old Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, as well as a group of men in the nearby Kurunegala district for allegedly attacking Muslim-owned businesses.
Sri Lanka’s information department director told Al Jazeera that one of the main reasons behind the ban was to “clamp down on tensions and incidents that have been erupting over the last 48 hours”.