Sri Lanka Bans Time Magazine Over U Wirathu Cover Story

By Bharatha Mallawarachi 3 July 2013

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka has banned the current issue of Time magazine over a cover story on violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma because it could affect religious sentiments on this Buddhist-majority island, a customs official said Wednesday.

Customs department spokesman Leslie Gamini said it has seized 4,000 copies of Time’s July 1 edition, which bears a photo of Wirathu, a radical Burma monk, with the headline “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

“We have decided not to release this edition” because it could hurt religious feelings in Sri Lanka, he said. Buddhism is Sri Lanka’s state religion.

Burma’s government has also banned the issue of the magazine “to prevent the recurrence of racial and religious riots.”

Wirathu is a leader of a movement of monks that preaches that Burma’s small Muslim minority threatens racial purity and national security. He has called for restrictions on marriages between Buddhists and Muslims, and for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses. Nearly 250 people have died and tens of thousands, mostly Muslims, have fled their homes in religious violence in Burma in the past year.

Religious tension has also been on the rise in Sri Lanka. Hate speech, vilification and attacks on Muslim-owned businesses and places of worship by Sinhalese-Buddhist groups have occurred in recent months. Inaction by police and other officials has spurred allegations that the government supports the campaign, which it denies.

Groups led by Buddhist monks have spread allegations that Muslims are dominating businesses and trying to take over the country demographically by increasing their birthrate and secretly sterilizing Sinhalese-Buddhists. Muslims make up 9 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people, while Sinhalese-Buddhists account for almost 75 percent.

International concerns have also been expressed over Sri Lankan religious tension.

A US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in March expressed concern over religious discrimination.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele J. Sison expressed alarm in April over rising hate speech and attacks against Muslims.