By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (BosNewsLife)-- Representatives of evangelicals in Sri Lanka say devoted Christians and churches face increased violence and discrimination by Hindu and Buddhist extremists. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) said it recorded 67 incidents this year alone and expressed concern about fresh political turmoil in the South Asian nation.
In one recent attack, a mob of about 100 people from surrounding villages attacked a church building in Beliatta in Hambantota district, demanding an end to worship services and threatening the lives of the pastor and his family, explained the NCEASL, which represents evangelical Christians in this mainly Buddhist nation.
Extremists vandalized the Assemblies of God Church building, two motorcycles parked outside and desecrated and removed religious symbols hanging on the front door, according to Christians familiar with the September 12 violence. Three days later, about 500 people reportedly gathered in protest, forcing the pastor and his family into police protection.
September saw the highest number of cases, with 12 documented attacks targeting Christians and churches, the NCEASL said. Comparatively, in the first five months of last year, it reported 20 cases.
Adding to concerns among Christians is a ruling by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court that the Constitution does not protect the right "to propagate" one's religion. Critics say that gives Buddhism the “foremost place” among all other religions and places it under state protection.
CONVERSION UNDER ATTACK
It also makes it more difficult for people to convert to another faith or be involved in evangelism. The news agency of advocacy group
Open Doors cited as an example 52-year-old Sri Lankan brickmaker, Nimal Sarat, who "received death threats" this year after converting to Christianity.
In remarks before the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this month the World Evangelical Alliance, of which the NCEASL is a member, urged Sri Lanka's government “to repeal legislation and jurisprudence that violate religious freedom.”
The difficulties faced by Christians also come amid political wrangling. Sri Lankan opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed prime minister last week after President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed the incumbent in a surprise move that analysts warned could threaten the fragile stability in the South Asian country.
In an open letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, the NCEASL said it was "deeply concerned by the constitutional crisis prevailing
in the country following the events that transpired on the 26th of October 2018 and the subsequent proroguing of parliament
by His Excellency the President."
The NCEASL stressed that the Constitution should be the "Supreme Law of the land and that any steps taken regarding the appointment
or removal of the Prime Minister of the country, should abide by the Constitution and be governed by due process and democratic
MORE VIOLENCE REPORTED
It added that it was also "deeply saddened by the sporadic instances of violence" but that it would "solicit prayer for the nation and all
leaders in authority as commanded in Scriptures for a peaceful resolution of the current crisis."
Christians fear the political crisis could further raise tensions in other areas of Sri Lanka where more than 25 years of conflict ended in May 2009, when government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.
But allegations of abuses by both sides continue. The island fell under the Portuguese and Dutch influence after the 16th century but gained independence in 1948, following nearly 150 years of British rule.
Christians comprise over 7 percent of Sri Lanka's mainly Buddhist population of roughly 22 million people, while Hindus and Muslims make up about 22 percent, according to figures provided by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Some church groups suggest the actual number of Christians could be higher.