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Posts falsely claim Muslim journalist in Sri Lanka 'kept silent' on Pakistan blasphemy killing

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on December 10, 2021 at 11:21
  • 3 min read
  • By AFP Sri Lanka
A claim has circulated on Facebook in Sri Lanka that a Muslim journalist and the news website he runs "kept silent" about the brutal killing of a Sri Lankan national in Pakistan over alleged blasphemy. But these posts are false; an AFP review of the Newswire website, run by Sri Lankan journalist Azzam Ameen, found it had in fact published a dozen stories about the crime.

"Why is the independent journalist Azzam Ameen and his website Newswire keeping silent about the Pakistan attack?" reads this Sinhala-language Facebook post shared on December 5, 2021.

"We noticed he was far more active during the Digana incident to raise awareness about it in the whole world."

Screenshot of the misleading post captured on December 7, 2021

Azzam Ameen is a Muslim Sri Lankan journalist. He runs Newswire, a website that publishes news in both English and Sinhala.

There have been ongoing tensions between Muslims and the country's majority Sinhalese -- who are mostly Buddhists -- since the deadly 2019 Easter bombings carried out by local jihadists and reported by AFP here.

Ameen had been targeted online in the aftermath of the bombings, according to the rights group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

The post circulated online after a Sri Lankan factory manager was beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob who accused him of blasphemy in Pakistan. AFP reported on the crime here.

The "Digana incident" mentioned in the post refers to anti-Muslim riots that erupted in Sri Lanka in 2018. Digana is a township in the district of Kandy where rioting took place. 

Similar posts claiming Ameen and Newswire did not report on the vigilante attack in Pakistan were published on Facebook here and here

But Newswire published a report on the attack on December 3 -- the same day the incident took place.

"A mob in Sialkot on Friday tortured a man to death before burning his body, while a heavy contingent of police has been sent to the area to bring the situation under control," reads the report published by Newswire here.

"The incident took place on Wazirabad Road in Sialkot, where reportedly the workers of private factories attacked the export manager of a factory and burnt his body after killing him.

"Sialkot District Police Officer Umar Saeed Malik said the man, identified as a Sri Lankan national."

Azzam also tweeted about the incident here on December 4, calling it a "barbaric killing".

Keyword searches on the Newswire website found it has published at least a dozen reports about the crime as of December 8.

Responding to the posts, Azzam said the claims are "baseless".

"I was the first to break the story and since then, I have prolifically published every update on this tragic incident", he told AFP.

"It is unfortunate that when a group with vested interests publishes baseless claims, audiences misleadingly share them without verifying. But this has not been the first instance that I had been baselessly accused in this manner".

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