Since the beginning of this year, the NCEASL has documented over 20 incidents of violence and intimidation against Christian places of worship across the country. During this period, there has also been an alarming increase in the number of incidents led against Muslims, with the latest occurring on 21st May when a mob attack was launched on the Mawalapitiya mosque following a procession in the area by the Bodu Bala Sena.
Since the current government took office in 2015, over 190 incidents of religious violence against churches, clergy, and Christians have been recorded by the NCEASL. In one such incident, on 18th May 2017, a large protest against a Christian place of worship was staged in Devinuwara (Matara District), with the participation of approximately 30 Buddhist monks and a mob comprising around 2000 people. The freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka. As such, the NCEASL is saddened that such protests continue to occur unrestrained against minority places of worship in the country.
While attacks and protests of this nature have occurred in the past as well, the increase in the intensity of incidents and the active involvement of local government officials has been a growing cause for concern. Moreover, in addition to attacks, intimidation, and protests, legal restrictions imposed on Christian places of worship have also continued unabated. For instance, the circular issued in 2008 by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs, requiring new constructions of places of worship to register with the government, continues to be misapplied by local authorities to close down churches and threaten Christian clergy to discontinue their religious activities. The circular, however, is not in accordance with Sri Lankan legislation, as there is no legal requirement to register places of worship with the State.
In an attempt to foster reconciliation and healing following the three-decade long war, the present Government has committed itself to ensure transitional justice in Sri Lanka. In keeping with its commitments, it is vital, therefore, for the government to speedily arrest the current situation and effectively address attacks on religious minorities in order to ensure the integrity of its reconciliation efforts.
The NCEASL, as such, strongly condemns the recent attacks on Christians and Muslims and calls on the government to ensure the protection of minorities and their places of worship. Moreover, in the light of numerous statements made by the State claiming improved human rights standards in the country, the NCEASL also calls on the government to take effective measures to prosecute perpetrators of violence and uphold the freedom of religion or belief in Sri Lanka.