Violence against Christians in Sri Lanka continue

Persecution of Christians in Sri Lanka have risen despite the rule of a new government that promised  a 'new culture' where religious minorities can practice without fear.

Leading evangelicals have recorded over sixty incidents of violent attacks, intimidation and harassment from dominant Sinhala Buddhist forces as well as the police since Maithripala Sirisena became president in January 2015.

In the two recent reports reproduced below, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) reports of fourteen incidents during the last three months alone.

There has been no effective police action in the face of violence against religious minorities and impunity for assailants which the NCEASL describes as 'hallmarks of the previous administration' led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

1. Assemblies of God Beliatta (Hambantota District)

July 23, 2015 - Around 12 Buddhist monks together with a mob arrived at the pastor’s premises and questioned the pastor on his religious activities. The mob also attempted to obtain a letter stating that the pastor was not conducting a Christian place of worship. Later that day, the pastor’s residence was heavily stoned, causing minor damages to his three-wheeler and his home.

August 1, 2015 - At approximately 12:15 a.m., the pastor and his family were awakened by a loud noise. Upon investigation, the pastor discovered that his three-wheeler and a part of his home were set ablaze. The pastor’s three-wheeler was completely destroyed in the fire.

2. Jesus Almighty Gospel Church Madu (Mannar District)

July 26, 2015 - The majority religious worship place of the area gathered the villagers for a meeting and announced through a loudspeaker that all Evangelical Christians should be eradicated from the area. Moreover, it was announced that Evangelical Christians would not be allowed to perform burials in the public cemetery and that those who communicate with them would be punished. It was also announced that the villagers would have to bear the cost of the action taken to eliminate Evangelical Christians from the community.

3. Church of South India, Neluwa (Galle District)

August 2, 2015 - During Sunday service, 10 Buddhist monks and about 30 villagers forcibly entered the religious worship premises at approximately 10:30 a.m. The mob then physically assaulted members of the congregation, including the pastor and his wife. The pastor, however, alerted the police, after which he and his wife were taken to the area police station for an inquiry. The pastor and his wife were then kept at the police station from 11 a.m. to around 6 p.m.

The police inquiry on the incident was held in the presence of the Chairman of the Provincial Council, the Secretary of the Sasana Araksha Kandayama (Group protecting Buddhist doctrine), the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and some villagers and Buddhist monks. The ASP reprimanded the pastor, stating that he cannot continue his religious worship activities without first obtaining registration. The pastor responded stating that the ASP should file a case against him if he was, in fact, committing a crime. The crowd which gathered for the inquiry, however, intimidated the pastor and coerced him into signing a letter agreeing to stop all religious worship activities until he obtains registration. The pastor suffered minor injuries during the dispute.

August 9, 2015 - At around 5:45 p.m., while the pastor was not at home, 2 officers from the Divisional Secretariat made an unauthorized visit to the pastor’s premises and began to take pictures of the house and housing plans. The pastor’s wife was then informed to discontinue all religious worship activities with immediate effect.

The pastor lodged a police complaint regarding this incident, holding number CIB 4264/45.

4. Good Shepheard Gospel Centre Kegalle (Kegalle District)

August 2, 215 - The pastor was requested to come to the area police station at approximately 4 p.m., for an inquiry over a petition that claimed the pastor was conducting unauthorized religious activities.

The pastor was not allowed to read the petition but was instructed by the Office-in-Charge (OIC) of the police station to obtain a letter of approval from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, in order to continue with his religious activities.

August 7, 2015 - The local village officer of the area called the pastor and asked him if he was on the voting list for the upcoming elections. Later that same day, the pastor met with the police Headquarters Inspector (HQI) who in turn questioned the OIC about the details of the incident. The OIC reiterated his advice to the pastor about obtaining a letter of approval from the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

September 9, 2015 - 4 officers from the Divisional Secretariat — including the 2 from the previous incident, arrived at the pastor’s house and claimed that they had received several petitions against the pastor. The pastor was then informed to stop all worship activities. The officers also threatened to seal the pastor's premises if he refused to register his place of worship. The pastor requested them to provide in writing their legal authority to do so.

September 11, 2015 - A letter dated 09/09/2015 from the Divisional Secretariat referencing the 2008 Circular issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs was received by the pastor. The 2008 Circular, however, only requires new constructions of religious worship places to obtain approval from the Ministry. Sri Lankan legislation does not require religious worship places to register with the State.

5. Worldwide Missionary Movement, Kithul (Batticaloa District)

August 7, 2015 - A few villagers wrote a letter that insulted Hinduism and falsely addressed it from the pastor, alleging that he would no longer allow Hindu temples to function in the village. This letter was printed as a poster and displayed in 3 prominent locations in the village. Furthermore, copies of the letter were mailed to the Rural Development Society (RDS) and around 40 Hindu families.

August 9, 2015 - The pastor received credible information that at approximately 8:30 a.m., there was a meeting conducted at the RDS with around 40-50 villagers in attendance. It was discussed at this meeting that the village is purely Hindu and that no churches or outsiders would be tolerated. One individual went so far as to comment that if the pastor insisted on continuing religious worship activities, he would burn down the church.

6. The Christian Centre, Bandaragama (Kalutara District)

September 6, 2015 - At around 10:30 a.m., 4 Buddhist monks from the village forcibly entered the worship premises and claimed that the pastor cannot conduct a church in the village. The pastor, however, responded by informing the Buddhist monks of his legal rights. The Buddhist monks then called the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the area police station and said that they want to lodge a police complaint against the pastor.  Within 15 minutes, around 8-10 policemen arrived at the premises and asked the pastor to attend an inquiry at 2:30 p.m., on the same day.

At the inquiry, the 4 Buddhist monks complained that the church was not a registered place of worship. The OIC then instructed the pastor to first register his place of worship with the Ministry of Religious Affairs in order to continue with his religious activities. The pastor was also made to sign a document stating that he would discontinue all religious worship activities until he registers his place of worship.

Registration of religious places worship is not a legal requirement in Sri Lanka. Most authorities quote the 2008 Circular issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs when citing the requirement for registration. The 2008 Circular, however, only requires new constructions of religious places of worship to obtain approval from the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs.

The pastor has carried out his religious worship activities in the area for the past 20 years.

7. The Christian Centre, Bulathkohupitiya (Kegalle District)

September 27, 2015 - The pastor was informed by a shopkeeper neighbouring his church that he was questioned 3 weeks ago by an individual claiming to be from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), regarding the pastor and his religious worship activities. The neighbour was asked if he considered the worship activities a disturbance, to which he replied that he has only been in the area for 2 years and did not have any issues with the pastor’s church. The individual took the neighbour’s statement and left. According to the neighbour, the individual then visited another neighbouring house belonging to a Muslim family as well.