The US Government said yesterday attacks on religious minorities in Sri Lanka continued unabated from the previous year.
In its International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour said the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) documented 97 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services.
“The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) reported dozens of violent attacks on mosques and Muslim prayer rooms during the year, especially during Ramadan. Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media,” the report said.
It said the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka repeatedly urged political leaders to defend religious minorities and protect religious freedom for all, emphasizing their importance in the national reconciliation process.
The report further said according to representatives of religious minority communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government officials at the local level engaged in systematic discrimination against religious minorities, especially Muslims and converts to non-denominational Christian groups.
“Local government officials and the police reportedly responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence against Muslim and Christian minorities. There were some reports of government officials being complicit in physical attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship,” it said.
It said the then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe publicly threatened to disbar and jail prominent human rights attorney Lakshan Dias for giving a media interview in which he stated that more than 190 documented attacks on evangelical Christians had occurred under the current government.
“Non-denominational Christian churches, often referred to as ‘evangelical’ or ‘free groups,’ continued to report physical attacks and harassment by police and local government officials who often sided with the religious majority in a given community. The government continued to enforce the ministerial circular issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs in 2008, which required registration of and permission for construction of new places of worship,” the report said.