Sri Lankan hardline Buddhists say Facebook accounts blocked after violence

Colombo - Buddhist activists accused of involvement in violence against Sri Lanka's minority Muslims said on Friday that accounts of their group's members on social media site Facebook had been blocked.

Clashes erupted on June 15 in Aluthgama and Beruwela, two towns with large Muslim populations on the island's southern coast, during a protest march led by the hardline group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or "Buddhist Power Force".

Many residents of the towns, thronged by tourists, said BBS activists had made inflammatory statements against Muslims at a rally before the violence. Much of the coast is dominated by Sri Lanka's majority Buddhist Sinhalese community.

The group denies any connection with the incidents, in which three people died and 75 were injured.

"My account is blocked," BBS spokesman Dilantha Vithanage told Reuters by telephone. "I can't access my account. I last visited my account on June 25 and the accounts of others have also been blocked."

Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, a Buddhist monk and the BBS secretary general, who addressed the rally, also said his account had been blocked.

"I have created another account," he said.

A Facebook spokesman in London declined to comment on any action taken by the company in Sri Lanka and referred Reuters to its terms of service.

The social media site's terms and conditions warn users not to "credibly threaten others or organise acts of real-world violence" and says it can remove content when it perceives "a genuine risk of physical harm or a direct threat to public safety".

Facebook also says organisations "with a record of terrorist of violent criminal activity are not allowed to maintain a presence".

Violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka has risen since 2012, mirroring events in Myanmar, which has seen a surge of attacks by members of the majority Buddhist community on Muslims.

Despite requests by many Muslim political leaders in President Mahinda Rajapaksa's coalition government to crack down on the BBS, the authorities have taken no steps.

Many independent analysts say well-coordinated violence against Muslims and Christians appears to have tacit state backing as those involved in previous attacks have yet to be punished. The government denies any collusion.

The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam attacked Muslim villages in the northeast during the civil war from 1983 to 2009. More than 140 people were killed in a massacre of Muslims in 1990 blamed on the Tigers, which the group denied.