Sri Lanka: Christians Arrested for Destruction of Statues

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Chief monk at Buddhist temple files accusations; two believers in custody deny charges.

DUBLIN, June 5 (Compass Direct News) -- A pastor and two associates from Mt. Carmel Theological College in Kandy, Sri Lanka, were arrested on May 27 and charged with destroying Buddhist statues.

Pastor Suresh Ramachandran, principal of the college, was released on May 28 after authorities learned he had a clear alibi. Pastor Christian Velu Selvarajah and Stephen Thomas, however, are still in custody and face an initial hearing on Thursday (June 7), according to a report by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).

The chief monk at a local Buddhist temple has accused the men of destroying two small statues of Buddha placed by the roadside at Unkelipitiya and Thalathuoya, in Kandy district. The monk claims to have two eye-witnesses to the attack, according to local sources.

Ramachandran was released on bail after proving that he was in a hospital with his daughter at the time of the alleged incident. The other two men have denied the charges.

Following the arrests, masses angry at the accused held demonstrations outside the college; police, however, have prevented any direct attacks on the staff and students.

Buddhist authorities reacted angrily to the news of Ramachandran’s release. Ramachandran has since received threats, and police have advised him to take precautions for his safety. They also advised him to send students home until tempers cooled in the district.

With local radio stations giving high profile coverage to the incident, however, tensions remained high.

Sources in Kandy reported that a lawyer who initially agreed to represent the Christians has reneged following pressure from the Buddhist accusers. Selvarajah and Thomas have found other lawyers for the hearing on Thursday.

Church Burned

Elsewhere, unknown persons set fire to the Prayer Tower Church in Karawilawelpitiya, Puttlam district, in the early hours of May 12. The flames quickly consumed the simple wooden walls and thatched roof of the church, along with the pulpit, carpets, drapes and banners.

Police carried out an initial investigation but at press time had not identified those responsible for the attack.

Buddhist monks launched a wave of violent attacks against Christian churches and individuals in 2002, seeking to discourage a growing number of conversions to Christianity. NCEASL had logged at least 160 such attacks by the end of May 2006.

In November 2002, T.E. Maheshwaran, Hindu Cultural Affairs minister, vowed to introduce anti-conversion legislation to Sri Lanka modeled on similar laws in India. Senior Buddhist monks supported this idea and soon launched their own legal campaign.

Two rival anti-conversion bills are making their way through Parliament, but progress on the bills has stalled due to a renewed outbreak of conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a breakaway group fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in northern Sri Lanka.

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