US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback released the International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 at the US State Department yesterday (Tuesday).
According to the report, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) documented 97 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services.
The report also said that the Sri Lankan Muslim Council (MCSL) reported dozens of violent attacks on mosques and Muslim prayer rooms during the year, especially during Ramadan.
The State Department report noted that the Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, Buddhist Power Force) continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media.
“Local government officials and police reportedly responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence against Muslim and Christian minorities. There were some reports of government officials being complicit in physical attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship,” the report said.
The report also noted that in June last year, the then Justice Minister, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe publicly threatened to disbar and jail prominent human rights attorney Lakshan Dias for giving a media interview in which he stated that more than 190 documented attacks on evangelical Christians had occurred under the current government.
Nondenominational Christian churches, often referred to as “evangelical” or “free groups,” continued to report physical attacks and harassment by police and local government officials who often sided with the religious majority in a given community.
The report also said that in 2017 the Government continued to enforce the ministerial circular issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs in 2008, which required registration of and permission for construction of new places of worship.
The report said that in regular meetings with the President, Prime Minister, and other senior Government officials, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka had emphasized the need for respect for and inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities in the post-conflict reconciliation process.
It was reported that during times of heightened religious and ethnic tensions, the Ambassador urged political leaders to defuse the immediate crisis and called on citizens to disavow religious violence. Embassy officers also met regularly with cabinet ministers with religious portfolios to encourage them to build ties across religions as part of sustainable reconciliation. (Colombo Gazette)