By Corey Bailey
10/30/2012 Washington, DC (International Christian Concern)-Despite the government’s official endorsement of religious freedom, Sri Lanka’s religious minorities have faced numerous violations of those freedoms over the past decade. In June, the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) issued the Colombo Statement on the Church in Sri Lanka in which they stated their desire to see the “full realization of the religious rights of all Sri Lankans, including the rights to freely change one’s beliefs and freely propagate those beliefs without governmental interference or permission.”
Numerous reports have come through various religious organizations, including National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), documenting over 195 cases of threats, beatings and intimidation of Christians since 2003.
In a recent trip to Colombo, International Christian Concern (ICC) met with the directors of NCEASL and WEA who expressed their concern regarding forced closure of churches by local authorities and violent attacks on clergy and churches. While religious groups in Sri Lanka are not currently required to register with the government, if they wish to open a bank account or construct a building, they are required to register with either the Companies Act or the Trust Ordinance. Both of these entities are reluctant, according to the State Department, to register new religious groups or even reregister existing groups. Due to this, many evangelical groups, including NCEASL and WEA, report that their religious activities are restricted by delay tactics which hinder their religious freedoms.
In what can be seen as a step in the right direction, the Sri Lankan government did not enact the proposed anti-conversion laws in 2009, despite the demands of extreme religious groups. The RLP recognized this and stated, “The government has taken care to protect the constitutional right to freedom of religious choice by not enacting proposed laws that would subject religious conversion to criminal scrutiny.”
While many advances in freedom have been made, there is still much more that is required, especially in the rural areas of Sri Lanka, to ensure that the people retain their right to religious freedom in both law and practice. The authorities, even in the rural areas, must be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Those who attack and intimidate religious minorities must be punished and all religious minorities must be free to practice their beliefs without fear of government interference or repercussions from their surrounding communities.
By Corey Bailey