Sri Lanka Anti-Conversion Bill Sent to Committee

One of two bills that will severely limit evangelism and conversion to the Christian faith in Sri Lanka has been referred to a Standing Committee.

One of two bills that will severely limit evangelism and conversion to the Christian faith in Sri Lanka was presented to the Sri Lankan Parliament on May 6 for second reading, a Christian persecution watchdog group reported today.

In a statement released today by the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), the watchdog group reported that the proposed anti-conversion legislation, presented to the Parliament by the Buddhist nationalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), has been referred to a Standing Committee. Under Sri Lankan parliamentary procedure, the bill can be referred to committee in its entirety or selected clauses can be referred.

“According to a report from the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), it is unclear at this point which clauses have been adopted by parliament,” VOM Canada reported. “Following committee evaluation and possible amendments, the law goes back to the Parliament for final reading and a vote.”

In January, parts of the proposed legislation were rejected by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. Since it was presented to Parliament without amendment, constitutional amendments will be required to pass the legislation, VOM reports.

VOM and other persecution watchdog groups say that if enacted, the JHU bill—known as the “Prohibition of Forcible Conversions of Religions Bill”—would require individuals who convert from one religion to another to inform the local authorities within a prescribed period. Those who fail to notify the authorities can be imprisoned for up to five years or fined up to 150,000 Rupees ($1,500 USD).

According to UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the proposed law also states that: “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person aid or abet any such conversions.”

Anyone who breaches this law would be subject to up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 150,000 Rupees. Should a minor, a woman, a physically or mentally disabled person, a prisoner, a student, a refugee or a hospital patient is converted by “fraudulent means”, the penalty is seven years imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 Rupees ($5,010 USD).

Last week, CSW also reported that a similar bill proposed by the Government, called the Act for Religious Freedom, seems to have been postponed while the JHU bill is tested before Parliament.

The Act for Religious Freedom, which has already been approved by the Cabinet, stipulates that no person should “unethically convert or attempt to unethically convert any other person espousing one religion…to another religion, religious belief, religious persuasion or faith which such person does not hold or belong to.”

Christian groups such as the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) have expressed “deep concern and regret” at the latest developments, stating that the proposed bill would “enforce limitations on religious freedom, legitimize violence and harassment of minority religious groups and further de-fragment our already divided society.”

While Buddhist groups have criticized the activities of a minority of evangelical Christians, accusing them of unethical and insensitive conduct, major Christian groups, including the Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Christian Council and the NCEASL, have offered alternative means of addressing the concerns of Buddhist and Hindu groups in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, international groups such as CSW have been lobbying hard to prevent either bill from becoming law.