Persecution on the Rise in War-Ravaged Sri Lanka

( [email protected] ) Mar 11, 2008 04:44 AM EDT

Minority Christians are facing unusually high incidents of persecution recently in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus make up the majority of the population.

Several cases of attack on Christians were reported in recent months including the murder of Pastor Neil Edirisinghe of the House Church Foundation on Feb. 17. Edirisinghe was fatally shot in the chest by two assailants outside of his home in the eastern district of Ampara, Sri Lanka, according to a report by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).

Attackers also shot the pastor’s wife in the stomach, while their two-year-old son received a minor injury from the assault and is said to be in trauma after the incident.

NCEASL believes the motive for the attacks may be the Pastor’s involvement in conversions. In 2007, Pastor Edirisinghe was also the victim of an attempted arson attack on his home.

The police have reportedly arrested four people in connection with the murder. Two of them are members of the Home Guards – a government established group that assists the police and military in security and other duties, according to Voice of the Martyrs. It was not known exactly who ordered the murder.

“We are saddened and outraged at the news of the murder of this innocent pastor,” said Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), in a statement. “Our thoughts are with Pastor Edirisinghe’s family, and we can only hope and pray his wife and son will make a full recovery.

“We urge the Sri Lankan Government to take necessary measures to ensure the freedom and protection of Christians in Sri Lanka and implore that justice is served in this case.”

Edirisinghe’s funeral was held Feb. 21 drawing more than 1,000 pastors and leaders to pay their last respects to the 37-year-old Christian leader they consider a martyr. His wife, Shiromi, meanwhile, laid unconscious in the Intensive Care Unit at the Ampara-base Hospital.

Anti-Christian propaganda has increased due to coordinated campaigns in recent years, according to CSW. In 2004 a political party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (Buddhist Heritage Party), was formed to promote so called “anti-conversion” legislation in an effort to prevent the conversions to Christianity. The campaigns have led to a series of violent attacks on churches nationwide, with some of the perpetrators never convicted.

The NCEASL also reported that believers of The King’s Revival Church, who belong to the Tamil ethnic community, were threatened mid-February that they would be imprisoned if they continued to attend their church.

Then on Mar. 2, 10 Christian students were beaten by a group of masked men on motorcycles while they were walking to their school, the Believers’ Church Bible College in western Putlam District. After the attack, one of the students was kidnapped and beaten. When another student ran to the college for help, a motorcyclist followed and attacked the college security guard and fled, according to Mission Network News (MNN).

"I think it's partly attributed to the increased civil war. One of the difficult things to realize is that religion and ethnicity is very much tied together,” commented Glenn Penner of Voice of the Martyrs Canada, to MNN. “Christians are the only group that bridges both of the major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, which are presently in a rather brutal civil war with each other."

Sri Lanka has been entangled in a civil war for two decades, which officially ended with the Cease Fire Agreement signed between the Government of Sri Lanka and the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Feb. 2, 2002. However, both sides failed to keep their promises, throwing the country back into turmoil since the end of 2005.

The LTTE says it is fighting to create a separate country for the 3.1 million ethnic minority Tamils, who it says face discrimination in Sri Lanka.

According to the United Nations, some 70,000 people have been killed and 465,000 displaced by the conflict, including 205,000 uprooted since fighting intensified in April 2006.

“Let us pray for peace in Sri Lanka. Certainly, the civil war has hindered some evangelistic activities as Christians are concerned about traveling from one place to the other,” Penner said. “Let's pray also for those who have been assaulted, particularly for children, that they would know the comfort and the healing that the Lord can bring into their lives. Pray for church leaders."

Sri Lanka is considered one of the “world’s most politically unstable countries” by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.