Christians in Sri Lanka are facing growing pressure to stop church activities and close their churches. Release International warns of an increase in religious hatred, organised violence and intimidation of Sri Lanka’s Christian minority. In many cases, it is Buddhist monks who have led protests against the churches.
In the past year growing numbers of churches have been forced to close and Christians have been forbidden from holding prayer meetings or Bible studies in their homes. Religious intolerance has been building in Sri Lanka for a decade.
In recent years, there have been upwards of 450 documented acts of violence against Christians, including arson and murder. And the burning and demolition of churches, personal attacks, death threats and forced displacement have shown a marked increase since 2012.
Although the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, there have been legal moves to pass anti-conversion legislation, restrict the construction of places of worship, and to impose limits on where worship can take place.
‘Release is seeing a growing climate of hostility and religious hatred towards the Christian minority in Sri Lanka,’ says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson. ‘Our partners have logged successive attacks and threats against churches in the first few months of this year. Sadly, it is often Buddhist monks and Buddhist organisations that are trying to force the churches to close.’
In February, Release partners documented more than ten attempts by Buddhists to close places of worship. In one incident, at Holy Family Church, in Asgiriya, Kandy District, a 250-strong mob led by 11 Buddhist monks stormed the pastor’s premises, demanding that worship services be stopped immediately.
The mob dragged out the pastor and his wife and assaulted them. The leader described the Christians as traitors and warned villagers they would be treated the same way if they encouraged Christian worship in the village.
‘This incident was just the tip of the iceberg,’ says Paul Robinson. ‘This year, Buddhist protesters have stoned and set fire to churches. These attacks are documented in the latest edition of Release magazine, which is available on our website.
‘One of our staff met Christian families who said they live in constant fear. Even their children face discrimination and taunts at school for being Christian. One tearful child asked, “Why do they hate us?” We urge the Sri Lankan authorities to uphold the right of Christians to worship.’
Release International is working with partners in Sri Lanka to provide a sanctuary for persecuted pastors and their families, and is holding conferences to help church leaders and congregations who are facing persecution.
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice. (Release International)