Sri Lanka's Christians To Contest Proposed Anti-Conversion Laws

( [email protected] ) Jun 09, 2004 11:42 AM EDT

Two new laws threaten to put further pressure on Christians in Sri Lanka who have already suffered dozens of violent attacks this year.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Buddhist monks of the minority Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party are to present an anti-conversion bill to Parliament that could be passed within two weeks of being placed on the Parliamentary Order Paper. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) is to challenge the bill before the Supreme Court in a bid to stop it becoming law as soon as it appears on the Parliamentary Order Paper.

In recent years, anti-Christian violence has risen in Sri Lanka. In the first six months of this year alone there have been 48 reported attacks on churches, pastors and congregations, and last year 91 incidents were reported. These include the destruction of church buildings and pastors’ houses, and the beating up of pastors and congregations.

“It is disheartening to see Buddhist extremist groups becoming increasingly intolerant of minority religious groups,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, General Secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL). “We are concerned that these intended bills will be abused in application, denying minority religious groups their right to a fair hearing before the law, equality before the law and justice.”

Christians are not only facing the threat of violence and legislation to ban conversions. They have also faced discrimination in the Supreme Court, with the incorporation of three Christian charities being refused, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

CSW-UK’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas commented, “We are deeply concerned about these developments. We wish to promote religious harmony and tolerance in Sri Lanka, and regard these proposed laws as serious infringements of religious liberty. We will be urging the Sri Lankan Government to desist from discriminatory legislation and to intervene to prevent continuing sectarian violence.”

CSW has been working with Members of Parliament in Westminster to initiate an Early Day Motion (EDM) on the persecution of Christians in Sri Lanka. So far 137 MPs have signed the EDM, which though rarely debated, demonstrates to the Government the level of support in the House for the motion.