Sri Lanka Christians protest after attacks by Buddhist extremists

(Photo: REUTERS / Stringer)Two Muslim women walk behind patrolling Special Task Force Commandos outside a vandalized mosque in Colombo August 11, 2013. A Buddhist mob attacked a mosque in Sri Lankan capital Colombo, leaving at least 12 injured, officials said.

Recent attacks on Christian places of worship by Buddhist extremists have sparked protests in the Sri Lanka capital against a perceived lack of religious freedom, World Watch Monitor reports.

The organization reports the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith and it said that more than 2,000 Christians gathered in Colombo on Sunday to protest.

Senior Buddhists and other religious leaders accused police Tuesday of failing to prosecute those behind a recent wave of attacks on Christians and Muslims, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

A multi-faith group led by Buddhist monks said Sri Lanka had failed to grasp the threat posed by hate speech and attacks due to local media reports not being "impartial or factual.

"There is at present a public perception that such attacks are taking place due to failure of law enforcement authorities to take necessary action," said the Forum for Inter-Faith Dialogue (FIFD).

"If unchecked, these alarming trends would cause immeasurable damage and drawback to the country."

Two churches and a Christian prayer center were attacked on January 12 by Buddhist mobs claiming they were illegal and aiming to take Buddhists away from their religion, WWM reported.


The prayer center, belonging to the Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Pitipana, near Colombo, was set alight on the same day as attacks on the Assemblies of God Church and Calvary Free Church in the southern coastal town of Hikkaduwa.

The fire was quelled in Pitipana before the center was completely destroyed.

Release International reported that a note was left outside the building, threatening further violence. Both churches in Hikkaduwa suffered extensive damage, with windows and furniture smashed and Bibles burned.

The Assemblies of God Church had been one of three churches attacked on Christmas Eve and had been warned on January 11 of the threat of a new attack.

WWM said several policemen were stationed outside the church on January 12, but they failed to prevent a mob of around 250 people breaking through the gates of the church.

A police spokesman said that 24 suspects were identified and would face trial.

Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror newspaper reported that the trials of 18 suspects, including five Buddhist monks, began at Galle Magistrate Court, near Hikkaduwa on January 27.

Anglican bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey asked for the country's Christians to enjoy the freedoms promised in the national constitution when he spoke at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Savior in Colombo.

"The freedom of thought, conscience, religion and association should be available to all religious communities," said the bishop, quoted by the UCA Catholic news agency.

"We expect the rule of law to be upheld and worry about hate speech and hate mongering against non-majority faith communities.

"Christian communities face hardships in educating children in accordance with the tenants of their faith. Many children are compelled to study the majority [Buddhist] religion, a clear violation of our religious rights," said Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey.

Christians make up 6.1 percent of Sri Lanka's population, while Muslims make up 9.7 percent, Hindus 12.6 percent and Buddhists 70.2 percent.

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka has reported a spate of other incidents in January that have heaped pressure on Sri Lanka's churches.

The alliance said police questioned the pastors of several churches whether their churches were authorised, and in some cases were warned not to meet due to threats from Buddhist monks.

The Pastors Fellowship in Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka, and the Church of Grace in Warakapola, near Colombo, both faced questions by the police.

In another incident, the house of the pastor of the Rathgama Christian Church, near Hikkaduwa, was vandalised and threats were made against the Suveya Doratuwa Church in Bibile, eastern Sri Lanka.

WWM said that Sri Lanka's Christian and Muslim minorities have long complained of discrimination and attacks.


It noted the government has announced plans to introduce regulations against publications that "defame the original teachings and traditions of the major religions".

While outwardly a positive move, the legislation has been likened to the controversial "anti-conversion laws" in neighbouring India.

Five Indian states have passed laws placing restrictions on religious conversions that are seen by minority religions as not applying to majority Hindus.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory body to the U.S. Congress, said that "while intended to reduce forced conversions and decrease communal violence, states with these laws have higher incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians, than states that do not".

The Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based political think-tank, said the proposals in Sri Lanka would "stamp a further official seal of approval on Sri Lanka's slide towards majoritarian religious extremism and sectarian violence," said WWM.

Sri Lanka is No. 29 on the 2014 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where Christians face the most opposition. The country did not appear in the top 50 the previous year.

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