Religious freedom abused in Sri Lanka

There were reports of abuses of religious freedom in Sri Lanka last year, the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 released by the U.S State Department yesterday has said.

Released by U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the report said that although the government publicly endorsed religious freedom, in practice there were problems in some areas.

U.S. embassy officials in Colombo conveyed U.S. government concerns about religious freedom issues, particularly attacks on churches, to government leaders and urged them to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, the report said.

The ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials also met frequently with representatives of all the country’s religious groups to discuss a wide range of human rights, ethnic, and religious freedom concerns.

The U.S. government strongly supported political reconciliation, and the embassy supported interfaith efforts by religious leaders to promote a peaceful resolution of the underlying causes of the conflict.

Camillus Roshan and S. Thanaruben of the Alliance Development Trust, the relief and development arm of the NCEASL, were attacked by an unidentified group on October 19 in Vavuniya. Police arrested three suspects in connection with the assault. The suspects were held in custody for 14 days and released on bail. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

On August7, the pastor of the National Gospel Church in Ratnapura was warned by a group of Buddhist monks to leave the area. The church ceased meeting for worship services due to these threats. In December, the pastor and a church worker were attacked by a group of people. The pastor did not file a complaint with the police, fearing they would favor the monks in the case because of the monks’ significant influence in the village. Since the August 7 threats, the pastor has minimized his church activities and limited visits to his congregation due to fear of further harassment.

On July 19, a group of approximately 50 persons threw stones at the homes of five Christian families, causing damage to the houses. They also shouted threats against Christians. The group then broke into a grocery shop owned by one of the families and assaulted the owner. Police filed a case in the Welimada Magistrates Court against several of the assailants for assault and causing damage to property, and a hearing was pending at year’s end.

On June 5, a group of 200 people forcibly entered the Prayer Tower Church in Puttalam and assaulted one of the church members. The police filed action jointly against both the attackers and the church on a count of breach of peace in the Marawila Magistrates Court. The church was compelled to come to a settlement, promising to limit its worship services.

On March 3 unidentified persons threw two fire bombs at the Jeevanalokaya Church in Hambantota. No one was injured in the attack. The pastor of the church continued to receive threats following the incident. The officer in charge led investigations into the attack but no arrests were made. The pastor and his family continue to live in the village.

In a statement published November 4, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, head of the Catholic Church in the country, accused what he called “American fundamentalist churches” of converting large numbers of Buddhists and Catholics through inducements. In his statement, the Cardinal called upon the government to control the spread of these churches. The NCEASL wrote to the Cardinal requesting an opportunity to discuss these issues, but received a response declining the invitation.

On October 26, a group of Catholic priests, members of the parish council, and their lawyer asked police to destroy a monument to disappeared persons in Gampaha. They alleged that the monument, which had stood for 11 years, was on church land unlawfully. A group of Catholic priests who work on human rights issues supported the monument remaining in that location. The case was ongoing at the end of the year.

In October 2010 a group of approximately 35 persons, led by six Buddhist monks, entered the premises of the Church of the Four Square Gospel in Kalutara. The intruders disrupted a worship service, threatened and assaulted the pastor, and destroyed furniture and musical instruments. The church lodged a complaint with the local police station and filed a case with the Kalutara Magistrate’s Court. The case was pending at year’s end.

In September a group of Buddhist monks destroyed an unofficial Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura, a UNESCO world heritage city sacred to Buddhists. The demolition was denounced by Muslim and Sinhalese leaders. Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticized the monks’ actions and assured Muslim leaders of the government’s commitment to protect Islamic holy sites.