VOM: Persecution against Sri Lankan Christians on the Rise

Persecution of Christians continues to be on the rise in Sri Lanka, and a proposed anti-conversion law there could mean even more

Persecution of Christians continues to be on the rise in Sri Lanka, and a proposed anti-conversion law there could mean even more, according to the spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs.

Recently, an Assembly of God church in the Sri Lankan town of Ambalangoda was attacked by a crowd of more than 100 people. While authorities believe a group of Buddhist monks is responsible for the attack in Ambalangoda, Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) says such incidents are increasingly common in this part of the world.

"This is just one of many attacks in the nation of Sri Lanka in the past few months and in the past few years," Nettleton told Agape Press in a recent interview. "The reports are that in the last two years, at least 170 churches have been attacked, and 140 churches have been closed down due to this type of violent attack."

According to the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), violence against Sri Lanka's Christian community continues to increase as religious freedom deteriorates.

In its annual report, the RLC noted that Sri Lankan Constitution affords Buddhism the position of the state’s “foremost religion,” while ensuring every person the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” in Article 10. Sri Lanka also agreed to protect religious freedom to its people by signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, the RLC claims that Sri Lankan Parliament continues to consider legislation and constitutional amendments that would essentially criminalize conversion from Buddhism to any other religion, stripping Sri Lankans of their right to freedom of conscious, belief and religion.

The Anti-Conversion Bill, presented by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Party to Sri Lanka’s parliament in July 2004, had as its stated aim, to promote Buddhism within Sri Lanka. The constitutionality of the bill was challenged in Supreme Court, which found two sections of the proposed legislation to be unconstitutional. If enacted, the legislation would have contradicted the freedom of religion guarantee in Article 10 of the Constitution.

The JHU is currently redrafting the bill in hopes of tabling it in the near future, while simultaneously working on a constitutional amendment that would enshrine Buddhism as the state religion, once again outlawing conversions from Buddhism in Sri Lanka. These bills, and others like it, intend to prohibit the conversion of a person from one religion to another. They propose penalties, including fines or jail sentences, for anyone convicted of conversion or assisting in conversion.

In his interview with Agape Press, Nettleton said the proposed anti-conversion law could mean even more persecution for Christians in Sri Lanka.

"The problem with the law," Nettleton explained, "is it doesn't really clarify what inducing someone is – if that's offering them money or if that's simply telling them that you know a better way or you know a better Savior. So that law, obviously, is a concern for Christian workers in the country."

The pending anti-conversion law is also a concern for foreign workers who are considering or who are actively doing mission work in Sri Lanka, the VOM spokesman added.

“That’s another item that American Christians can pray about," he said.

Nettleton stated that it is not clear at present when Sri Lanka's Parliament may vote on the anti-conversion legislation, however the RLC reported that even if the proposed bill does not pass, the Minister of Buddha Sasana (Buddhist Affairs) is expected to table a Government bill, with Cabinet support, which would effectively ban all religious conversions.