Court Case

COLOMBO, May 5, 2014 (AFP) – Four of Sri Lanka’s most senior hardline Buddhist monks appeared in court Monday accused of insulting the Koran, in the first such case following a spate of religious hate attacks. Police established a new unit last week to investigate hate crimes in the wake of the violence, which raised concerns about religious freedoms.

Nationalist Buddhist groups, including the BBS, accuse religious minorities of having undue political and economic influence on the island.

The country is emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic war which, according to UN estimates, claimed at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.

Rebels were fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindu, on the ethnic Sinhalese-majority island.

Seventy percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people are Sinhalese Buddhists, while Muslims are the second-largest religious group, making up just under 10 percent. The others are Hindus and Christians. Police accused the monks, from the nationalist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or Buddhist Force, of making disparaging remarks against the Islamic holy book after bursting into a meeting of religious leaders last month.

At the meeti