CSW Reports Renewed Anti-Christian Violence in Sri Lanka

CSW: ''We are deeply concerned about the recent attacks, and urge the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate these incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice''

Christians in parts of Sri Lanka are facing fresh violence and intimidation, a Christian persecution watchdog group said Monday.

In a statement released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the UK-based organization expressed deep concern over recent reports of attacks against the Christian minority in the predominantly Buddhist nation while an anti-conversion law is being considered by the country's Parliament.

"We are deeply concerned about the recent attacks, and urge the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate these incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in the June 13 statement. “We also strongly urge the Sri Lankan Parliament to reject the discriminatory anti-conversion law which would be both a violation of Sri Lanka's Constitution and its obligations under international human rights agreements."

According to CSW’s report, the Assemblies of God Church in Ambalangoda, Galle District, south of Colombo, recently came under attack with rocks, stones and bottles filled with sand on the night of June 5. The following morning, at about 10 a.m., the church was reportedly surrounded by a crowd of about 100 people shouting threats. Five hours after the mob arrived, they stormed the church, demolished part of the boundary wall, smashed windows and broke open the door. The pastor's van was also damaged. Armed with iron rods, shovels, two swords and other weapons, the mob brutally assaulted the pastor and the two church members. One person was seriously injured and all three are now in hospital receiving treatment for their injuries. CSW now says there are fears that the mob may return to attack the church again.

In another reported incident of violence, a Christian family's home in Batticaloa District, east Sri Lanka, was set ablaze on June 2. According to CSW, the family escaped unhurt, and were able to put out the fire before it spread. The family had donated land to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka for the construction of a training institute. The construction workers' building on the site was burned down on Feb. 29.

CSW also reported that a crowd of about 100 people and a local Buddhist monk disrupted a prayer meeting on May 29, at Kithu Sevana Church, Kaluvilapothane, Ambanpola in Kurunegala District, north east of Colombo. Christian villagers were threatened and warned to stop their meetings. Amidst fear of attack, the next prayer meeting, scheduled for June 5, was cancelled.

In its report, CSW also noted that churches in Kesbewa and Halpita, near Colombo, and in Polonnaruwa District, central eastern Sri Lanka, were threatened by large mobs earlier last month. On May 15, the Assemblies of God Church in Kesbewa was reportedly surrounded by a crowd of 500 people, accompanied by 100 Buddhist monks, demanding that the church close down. The pastor was forced to leave, accompanied by the police for his own protection. The church had been completely burned down in September 2003 but the congregation had recently started meeting in the shell of the building.

Persecution watchdog groups such as CSW have reported that in the past two years, at least 170 churches have been attacked and 140 closed down due to intimidation and threats. The worst violence occurred at the end of 2003 and early 2004, and had appeared to decrease after the Tsunami.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's Parliament is currently debating a new law which would ban so-called "unethical" or "forced" conversions. However, the terms "forced" and “allurement" are so vaguely defined that the law would in effect severely restrict religious freedom in the country.