July 25, 2019 / 7:09 PM / 23 days ago

Sri Lanka court grants bail for doctor accused of sterilising Buddhist women

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan court granted bail on Thursday to a Muslim doctor accused of having sterilised over 4,000 women from the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, his lawyer said, a deeply sensitive case in a country long dogged by communal bloodshed.

Muslim doctor Segu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi (C) is escorted by prison officers at the Magistrate Court in Kurunegala, Sri Lanka July 25. 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

Shegu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi, who has denied the allegations, was given bail of 2.75 million rupees (£12,541), defence lawyer Faris Saly told Reuters after a five-hour hearing in Kurunagala magistrates court in northwestern Sri Lanka.

“He was arrested (in May) under a bailable offence and the judge found no reason to refuse bail today,” Saly said.

Police stood guard at the court and surrounding area in the South Asian country’s Buddhist heartland, 105 km (65 miles) north of the capital Colombo, where Buddhist monks and other local residents had sought Shafi’s continued detention.

The allegations are incendiary on an island where hardliners within the Buddhist majority have accused Muslims of seeking to use a higher birth rate to spread their influence.

Sri Lanka has a long history of communal violence. A decades-long, devastating civil war between the Sinhalese and the mainly Hindu Tamil minority ended in 2009.

Shafi’s supporters have said he is innocent and the charges were whipped up to stoke inter-communal tensions in the wake of bombings of churches and hotels on Easter Sunday that killed more than 250 people, blamed on Islamist militants.

He was arrested two days after a front-page story appeared in a nationalist newspaper alleging that an unidentified doctor had sterilized as many as 4,000 women after performing caesarean deliveries.

“All the charges are baseless and fabricated,” Shafi’s lawyer Anura Bhandara Mattegoda told an earlier court hearing.

Shafi’s supporters have said he is innocent and the charges were whipped up to stoke inter-communal tensions in the wake of bombings of churches and hotels on Easter Sunday that killed more than 250 people, blamed on Islamist militants.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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