Sri Lanka: Attacks on Bible School Continue

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Provincial Council member assaults security guard at college after leading protest.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (Compass Direct News) -- A Provincial Council member brandishing a gun assaulted a security guard at a Bible college in Lunuwila, Puttlam district two weeks after an attack on 10 of the institution’s students seriously injured two of them.

A Wennappuwa Provincial Council Member identified in published reports as Winton Appuhamy appeared at the college gate at midnight on March 15, threatened an unarmed security guard and assaulted him. A hearing that was scheduled earlier that day regarding the March 2 attack by masked men on students of the Believers’ Church Bible College was postponed after Appuhamy led a protest with villagers and some Buddhist monks accusing the school of harboring Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorists.

After beating the security guard that night, the public official left, threatening to return and rape female students resident at the college. When arrested by the police, he claimed that he had acted out of patriotic concern.

In the March 2 attack, a group of masked men had beaten the Bible college students as they walked from the Lunuwila railway station to the school, injuring nine of them.

A few minutes before the attack, Appuhamy had met the students and asked where they were heading. They replied that they were on their way to the Bible college.

Shortly after they were assaulted, this same Provincial Council member came to the gate of the Bible college, shouting and threatening that he would not allow it to continue for more than a week.

The Bible school has operated in Lunuwila since 2002.

In the attack on the students, “There were about 10 men on motorbikes who assaulted them, kicking and beating them with fists and rods,” said Rev. Lal Vanderwall, Diocesan Overseer of the Believers’ Church.

More attackers arrived in a van and dragged one of the students into the vehicle, where a person wearing heavy boots kicked and beat him.

A student escaped and ran to the Bible college to get help. One of the assailants followed him on a motorbike and assaulted the security guard, though the guard was able to close the gate to prevent the attacker from entering the premises.

“The injured students were rushed to the Lunuwila hospital for treatment,” said Rev. Vanderwall. “Nine were treated for injuries; two were badly injured. One student required extensive treatment at the Marawila Hospital as he suffered severe blows to his stomach.”

Two of the attackers were identified in a complaint to the Koswatte Police the same day, March 2. Police made initial inquiries and referred the matter to the local Mediation Board.

The day before the hearing, leaflets appeared in the village urging villagers to join a protest campaign and pressuring authorities to close the Bible college. The leaflets contained false, inflammatory allegations claiming that the Bible college was a bunker harboring LTTE terrorists.

The day of the hearing, Provincial Council Member Appuhamy led a protest against the Bible college, together with villagers and a few Buddhist monks. The protesters carried placards calling the school an LTTE terrorist center. Police provided protection to the Bible college and the students who were trapped within school walls.

The protesters hung placards on the fence of the college and dispersed. Observers said the presence of media at the protest suggested the demonstration was well planned and carried out with the intent of defaming the school.

Intensified fighting between government troops and the LTTE, bombings of civilian targets, abductions, killings and other atrocities have deepened the mistrust between the country’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic communities.

The divide is exacerbated daily by politicians and media using the conflict for their own ambitions, as well as by ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands in acts of misguided patriotism. Anti-Christian elements also strategically exploit the conflict to provoke and justify violence against Christians.

Pastors, Families Threatened

Pastor Wasantha Bandara, 28, who serves a small congregation of H.B.I. Ministries in Udugama village in the Galle district (Southern Province), and his family experienced the cruel reality of this phenomenon on March 2.

“For over two hours, a crowd of more than 200 villagers including Buddhist clergy and temple officials surrounded our home and threatened us to leave the village or face death,” Pastor Bandara said.

Referring to the ethnic identity of the pastor’s 24-year-old wife, who is Tamil, and the minority Tamil congregation he ministers to, the mob suggested that if he did not comply, there could be accusations of complicity in terrorist activities against him and the church.

“It is too dangerous for them to stay on,” said a senior pastor of the church. “This is not the first threat they received.” In February, he said, three men walked into the church Sunday school armed with clubs and threatened Pastor Bandara.

The pastor, his wife, their 11-month-old baby, 3-year-old son and the wife’s grandmother, who lived in the house, have been evacuated to a safe location.

A few hours after the mob threatened Pastor Bandara, many miles away in the remote, northern district of Mulaitivu, a pastor who goes by a single name, Suganthan, and his family experienced a terrifying brush with death.

Pastor Suganthan, his wife, their child and two others were asleep inside his church, Zion Mount Prayer House, during the early morning hours of March 3 when the building was set on fire.

Woken by the noise and heat of the flames, the family escaped the fire.

Godfrey Yogarajah, general secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, said all citizens of the country have a right to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity.

“It is our hope and prayer that justice will prevail, and Christians in this country will be free to worship and practice their faith unhindered by violent elements,” he said.

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