Tension in Lanka over claims that Muslim doctor sterilised Buddhist women

Wednesday 12th June 2019 06:10 EDT

Colombo: A Sri Lankan newspaper Divaina, known for its nationalist stance, published a front page article alleging a Muslim doctor had secretly sterilised 4,000 Sinhala Buddhist women after Cesarean deliveries. The doctor, who was not identified in the article, was also described as a member of the National Thowheed Jamath, one of two local Islamist groups blamed for bombings that killed more than 250 people in hotels and churches on Easter Sunday.

The article was produced roughly a week after Buddhist mobs in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka had destroyed Muslim homes, stores and mosques in rioting triggered by the coordinated bombings in the capital Colombo and two other towns.

Divaina’s editor-in-chief, Anura Solomons, said that the paper’s story was based on police and hospital sources, whom he said he could not identify. Allegations on a Muslim doctor might be forcibly sterilizing Buddhists are particularly incendiary on an island where hardliners within the Buddhist majority have accused Muslims of seeking to use a higher birth rate to spread their influence.

Two days later, a doctor, Segu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi, was arrested. Police said he was accused of acquiring properties with money of a suspicious origin. Police are also probing the sterilisation claims and have called on any potentially affected women to come forward. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said Shafi was charged under a money laundering act, but declined to provide further information on the financial charges he faced or the sterilisation claims.

Allegations false

Shafi’s family said he was being framed. “He is being targeted because of political problems and jealousy. I cannot exactly tell who it is, but there is a group,” said his wife Fathima Imara, 43, a kidney doctor at the same hospital. In an interview, Imara described her husband as a devout Muslim and caring physician. He has not been a member of a militant group, she said. Shafi was also a smart investor, she said, using earnings from his hospital work and a family-owned medical testing centre to amass stakes in some 10 properties.

It would be impossible to surreptitiously block women’s fallopian tubes during caesarean sections, when a half-dozen staff members were on hand, she added. The hospital’s director, Dr A.M.S. Weerabandara declined request to interview Shafi’s direct colleagues, saying they were busy.

Meanwhile, Imara has stopped working and pulled their three children from school. She said her husband, whom she visited at the Colombo Criminal Investigation Department, was being treated well, but that his mood was dark.

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