Lanka ends emergency rule

Wednesday 28th August 2019 05:51 EDT

Colombo: Sri Lanka has officially ended four months of emergency rule imposed after the Easter Sunday suicide attacks that killed more than 260 people, left the government in disarray and raised fears of renewed ethnic tensions in the island-nation. President Maithripala Sirisena allowed the emergency rule, which was put in place shortly after the April 21 bombings, to lapse by not signing a decree that would extend it for another month.

He had previously extended the order on the 22nd of every month following the massacres when suicide bombers attacked three churches and three hotels around Colombo and the eastern town of Batticaloa on Easter Sunday.

The emergency laws gave the military and police sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects without court orders. Critics charge it has been used to unfairly target Muslim citizens. Hundreds have been arrested since April as the government used the emergency order, as well as curfews and social media blackouts, to tighten security across the country and hunt members of two local Muslim groups it said were responsible for the attacks.

Those groups had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), although a Sri Lankan investigator said that the groups were inspired, but not directly linked, to ISIL. Sri Lankan authorities say all those directly responsible for the suicide bombings have either been killed or arrested.

A return to normal?

The end of emergency rule signifies a perceived calm returning to the country, which relies heavily on its $4.4bn tourism industry that has suffered since April. Several foreigners were killed in the bombings, which also wounded at least 500 people. Tourist arrivals had slumped by 70 per cent in May and 57 per cent in June, compared with the previous year. Earlier in the week, John Amaratunga, the tourism minister, had asked the president to relax the emergency law in hopes of signalling to foreign holidaymakers that the situation in the country was back to normal. The government and the country's security apparatus remain in disarray since April, with accusations that officials did not act upon near-specific intelligence from foreign agencies before.

A parliamentary committee is investigating who was responsible for not taking the timely action. In July, authorities arrested Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara and former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Hemasiri Fernando over allegations they failed to prevent the attacks. Opponents have accused Sirisena of failing to act on precise Indian intelligence that attackers were about to hit Christian churches and other targets in Sri Lanka.

Many arrested

Military and police have been accused of targeting the country's Muslim minority, activists and politicians under the emergency order, provoking further fear after the bombings threatened to inflame tensions between the majority Buddhist and minority Muslim populations. Muslims make up nearly 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's population of 22 million.

In June, a police spokesman said that 2,289 people - including 1,820 Muslims - had been arrested in "connection to the Easter Bombings and related incidents". That month, the EU said it was "deeply concerned by the political and religious pressure being directed at Muslims which is undermining peace and reconciliation in the country".

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