Hard-line Sri Lankan Buddhist monk sentenced to 6 years

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Sri Lankan court on Wednesday sentenced a hard-line Buddhist monk to six years in prison for contempt of court.

Galagoda Atte Gnanasara was found guilty of interrupting a court hearing in 2016 for military personnel accused of involvement in the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda. The monk is the leader of a Buddhist group accused of instigating attacks on minority Muslims. The group has denied the allegation.

The monk has accused the journalist of supporting the separatist Tamil Tigers, who were defeated in a decades-long civil war.

In June, the monk was sentenced in a separate case to six months in prison for harassing and intimidating the journalist's wife. He was released on bail pending an appeal.

Gnanasara did not attend the court session Wednesday because he is being treated in a hospital for a kidney illness, said Dilantha Vithana, a spokesman for the monk's group. He said lawyers filed an appeal of Wednesday's ruling.

Scores of Sri Lankan journalists went missing during the civil war, with most allegedly abducted by paramilitary groups.

Gnanasara was already facing legal action over several hate attacks against Muslims.

Sri Lanka has long faced a bitter ethnic divide between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils, fueling the civil war as Tamil militants fought for a separate homeland. The war ended in 2009.

Since then a religious divide has grown, with the rise of Buddhist nationalist groups that accuse minority Muslims of stealing from Buddhist temples or desecrating them, or forcing people to convert to Islam. Muslims also own many small shops, and many Muslims suspect small-town jealousy has led to some attacks.

Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhist, while Tamils are mostly Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

Religious violence flared anew in March when Buddhist Sinhalese mobs attacked Muslim-owned shops, homes and mosques in the island's tea-growing central hills after a Sinhalese man died in an assault.

Sinhalese account for 75 percent of the country's 20 million people, while Muslims represent 9 percent.

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