Sri Lanka uses anti-terror law to detain opposition Muslim leader

Azath Sally is being held under a 90-day detention order in what the minority community said was the latest act of discrimination against them.

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COLOMBO // Sri Lanka has detained an opposition Muslim political leader for 90 days in what the minority community said was the latest act of discrimination against them.

Azath Sally, 49, the former deputy mayor of Colombo and the leader of the Muslim National Unity Alliance, was being held under a 90-day detention order, the police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.

"The charges are under the Prevention of Terrorism Act," Mr Siriwardena said, without elaborating.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka or MCSL, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, said Mr Sally was detained on Sunday.

"We have written to the president to release Mr Sally immediately and make public the charges that are said to have been brought against him," the MCSL leader NM Ameen said.

Mr Sally has been a vocal critic of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and blamed the authorities for allowing an anti-Muslim campaign in the Buddhist-majority nation that culminated in an arson attack on two Muslim-owned businesses in March.

Extensive damage was caused to a clothing store and a vehicle yard, but three Buddhist monks and 14 other Buddhists arrested over the attack were later freed as police and the victims did not press charges.

The Asian Human Rights Commission condemned Mr Sally's arrest using the act, nearly four years after security forces crushed Tamil rebels and declared an end to the island's decade-old ethnic war.

"The AHRC warns that a new principle is emerging in Sri Lanka now where if anyone is considered as having made a wrong political decision, the government agencies can arrest and detain them," the Hong Kong-based commission said.

Last week, the London-based Amnesty International accused Sri Lanka of instilling a climate of fear by stepping up repression, a charge denied by Sri Lanka as a "fascinating piece of fiction".