Buddhist Mobs Attack Five Churches in Sri Lanka

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Aggression Designed to Force Passage of Anti-Conversion Laws
by Sarah Page

DUBLIN, August 5 (Compass) -- Mobs attacked five churches in the southern district of Galle, Sri Lanka, on August 2. Initial information from the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (EASL) suggests the organized attack on the churches is part of the government’s plan to introduce anti-conversion legislation.

A Methodist church in Rathgama suffered an initial attack on July 27. Christians who saw the crowd of 50 Buddhist monks and a number of young people moving toward the church that morning alerted the police, who arrived on the scene in time to prevent the monks from entering the building. The monks shouted abuse at the Christians and threw stones at the church in retaliation.

The monks then issued an ultimatum to the Christians to tear down their church by Saturday, August 2. If this was not done, they would return with a force of 400 monks and burn down the church themselves. One of the monks also threatened that of a total of 18 churches in the district would be destroyed.

Police warned the monks not to resort to violence and to present themselves for an inquiry at the police station on August 2. Officers stood guard at the church over the following two days, but protection was withdrawn due to a lack of manpower.

Ten of the Buddhist monks arrived at the police station for the appointed inquiry and were warned not to resort to violence. However after leaving the police station, they headed directly to the Rathgama Methodist church and launched an attack, throwing stones and destroying pews and benches in the church. Monks beat two church workers, Mr. Mahesh and Mr. Richard Silva. The men required hospital treatment for their injuries.

A Buddhist monk armed with a shovel chased another church member, Mr. Ariyadasa, threatening to beat him to death. Ariyadasa managed to escape, but the monks later attacked his home and destroyed furniture and other possessions.

A police report was filed on the incidents, but at press time no arrests had been made.

Local Buddhist villagers expressed anger at the attacks and have shown solid support for the church. Since the attack, villagers have posted a nightly guard to watch over the property.

Several other churches in the Galle district suffered attacks on August 2, including the Assemblies of God in Thanamalwila and Lumugamvehera.

A mob led by 10 Buddhist monks attacked and beat Pastor Ranjith of Lumugamvehera on the afternoon of August 2. His sister tried to protect him and also suffered a beating. The monks threatened to attack again and kill the pastor if the Christians failed to close down the church.

In Ganemulla, Christians’ homes were attacked. Another mob led by Buddhist monks attacked the Calvary church in Hikkaduwa.

According to the EASL, the spate of attacks marks the beginning of an attempt to incite Buddhists against the Christian community. This would create an environment of religious disharmony which, in turn, would provide an excuse to introduce new anti-conversion laws in the country.

Buddhist and Hindu groups in Sri Lanka have called for the introduction of these laws for several years in an attempt to stop the growth of evangelical churches. Until recently, governments have chosen not to enact such laws.

However in November 2002, Mr. Maheshwaran, the Hindu Cultural Affairs Minister, made a visit to Tamil Nadu, one of five states in India with anti-conversion laws. On his return to Sri Lanka, Maheshwaran made a public statement vowing to introduce a bill in parliament to curb religious conversions.

In subsequent months, Maheshwaran repeated his intentions to introduce the bill to parliament. A draft bill closely modeled on the Tamil Nadu anti-conversion law has now been prepared, according to the EASL, leading to increased attacks on Christian churches in recent months.