By BosNewsLife Asia Service
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (BosNewsLife)-- Evangelical Christians in heavily Buddhist Sri Lanka are facing attacks and death threats with authorities reluctant to intervene, according to the organization representing them.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) documented several cases in recent weeks including in northwestern Mannar district where it said a pastor and several other Christians were injured after they were attacked by an angry mob for hosting prayer services.
NCEASL said the tensioned erupted on May 11 when believers were told by dozens of villagers never to return to Madu village where the meeting was held.
The next day about 150 villages surrounded the local pastor's home, after he told police about threats made by those opposing their prayer services.
While the pastor's family and other Christians were waiting for police, some 40 people from the crowd
broke through the fence surrounding the premises and forcibly entered the home, Christians said.
During the attack the pastor was knocked unconscious by a blow to the back of his neck with a pole,
according to NCEASL investigators. "Fearing that the pastor was dead, the mob then fled the premises"
where they also smashed his car, the group said.
The pastor and three other Christians were hospitalized for several days. Damage caused to the pastors van is estimated at around 1.5 million rupees ($11,500), the group said.
Police initially appeared reluctant to intervene, questioning the Christians for seven hours when they
complained about the attacks, evangelical Christians said. A local court reportedly ordered the arrest of some 30 suspects, but it was not immediately clear if and when the arrests were carried out.
Other believers involved in prayer services have also been attacked, including a Christian worker
of the evangelical Light House Church in the town of Waththegama in Kandy district, said NCEASL.
The woman was attacked May 15 while praying in a Christian family's home where two strangers later
also asked for prayers. "While the Christian worker was praying for the strangers, five Buddhist monks
and 20 youth from the village stormed the premises and physically assaulted the Christians," NCEASL said.
"The mob forcibly led the Christian worker to the Buddhist temple in the village and snatched her Bible and National Identity Card. At the temple, she was drenched with water, verbally abused by the mob, and threatened with death by a youth who strangled her neck and warned her never to enter the village again."
Police, who arrived only later to disperse the mob, warned the Christian woman she would face court charges for "unethical conversions", according to Christians familiar with the case. They did not identify her apparently amid security concerns.
And last month, police questioned the pastor of an Assemblies of God Church congregation in the town of
Angunukolapalassa, in Hambanthota district, whether prayer meetings were still being held there after raiding the premises, the NCEASL said.
A police chief allegedly shouted at the pastor, who was warned to leave the village. The pastor
responded by saying it was his "fundamental right to practice and observe" his Christian faith, Christians said.
Ater that June 6 incident, news emerged that officers from Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) visited a pastor of The Christian Fellowship congregation in Bulathkohupitiya in the
Kegalle district to question him over the "legality of prayer meetings" at his premises.
During the June 12 confrontation, CID officers told the unidentified pastor to receive official approval from local authorities to continue with his services, the NCEASL added.
The attacks come amid wider concerns about religious militancy in the country.
"Although religious freedom is enshrined in Sri Lanka’s laws, the appearance since July 2012
of nationalistic and religious supremacist groups has increased pressure on all religious minorities," said Open Doors, a respected advocacy group supporting reportedly persecuted Christians.
"Last year saw an increase in violent attacks against Christians and churches, mainly by Buddhist extremist groups, which are widely perceived as being tacitly supported by the government," the group added.
In 2013, there were more than 50 attacks on churches, often by mobs of between 40 to 800 people, according to Open Doors estimates.
In at least one case last year, a pastor and his family had to flee for their lives as they were found on a death list, Open Doors investigators said.
"Buddhist monks in villages continue to make Christian activities almost difficult to happen," the
group explained, adding that "mainly Protestant, but also Catholic" churches are targeted.
"Usually monks arrive while the service is going on and demand the church`s immediate closure."
It comes at a time when Christian refugees arrive in Sri Lanka from other trouble spots, including
Pakistan and India. Many refugees are known to have been returned, despite expected persecution in their home countries, activists have told BosNewsLife.
Christians comprise roughly six percent of the South Asian island's heavily Buddhist population of 22-million people, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004).
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