Wednesday, January 22, 2014

RLPB 244. Sri Lanka: buddhist nationalist attack churches in south and west

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 244 | Wed 22 Jan 2014


By Elizabeth Kendal

On Saturday 11 January police in the coastal tourist town of Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka's Southern Province, warned Pastor Chinthaka Prasanna that the Buddhist nationalist group 'Hela Bodu Pawura' was planning to protest against the church the following day. As one of three Sri Lankan churches to be attacked on Christmas Eve, this local Assemblies of God church decided to take precautions. So on Sunday 12 January they assembled early before locking the doors and bolting the security gates. Though they had been promised police protection, only three police were stationed outside the gates when some 250 protesting Buddhists (including many saffron-robed Buddhist monks) marched up to the church behind mobile loudspeakers blaring anti-Christian slogans. Instead of standing their ground, the police struggled briefly before melting away. Christians escaped by a rear exit as the Buddhist protesters broke down the gates and invaded the property. They shattered windows, smashed furniture and equipment and burnt Bibles, sheet music and other materials. The mob then moved on to attack Calvary Free Church, just a short distance away, where worship had concluded. As Pastor Ranjan Perumal explained, this was not the first time Calvary Free Church had been targeted either. The protesters then occupied the main Galle-Colombo road, disrupting traffic until police assured the monks that the churches would be closed until 10 February while 'a solution was being sought'.

Though Hela Bodu Pawura maintains the two churches are operating illegally, this is false as both churches are registered and fully legal. Hela Bodu Pawura also accuses the Sri Lankan media of distorting the truth, for according to the monks, the protest was totally peaceful until the Christians came out and attacked the protesters, forcing them to retaliate while the monks tried to prevent violence. Fortunately -- or unfortunately for Hela Bodu Pawura -- both attacks were filmed by private television station Derana and the footage is available on Youtube.
In a separate incident also on Sunday 12 January, a Christian prayer centre in Pitipana, Homagama, on the south-eastern outskirts of Colombo in Western Province, was set alight in the early hours. Fortunately the fire was put out before serious damage was caused. According to Release International, a note left hanging on the gate made serious threats against Christians.

Doubtless fanning the flames of Buddhist nationalist zeal is the fact that in September 2013, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won 30 of 38 seats in the Northern Provincial Council elections. This sent a loud message to Colombo that the North is still wanting autonomy. The TNA, which maintains ties to the separatist rebel army LTTE, is lobbying to have the constitution's 13th Amendment fully implemented. This amendment enables decentralisation by establishing provincial councils, which the Buddhist nationalists vehemently oppose. The more conciliatory Tamil parties are talking about forming an alliance to create a viable opposition and alternative to the TNA. Provincial council elections will be held soon in the Southern and Western Provinces with 30 January the closing date for nominations. Doubtless the Buddhist nationalists in the Southern and Western Provinces consider this a critical time to raise their profile.

Writing in the Colombo Gazette (16 January 2014), Dharisha Bastians blames the escalating violence on the pervasive Buddhist nationalist hate speech 'which has coloured the teachings and the discourse in every Buddhist temple, from the smallest villages to the largest towns across the island'. She also blames impunity and the silence of political leaders who are unwilling to confront the monks for fear of alienating their Buddhist constituents. Karu Jayasuriya, Chairman of the United National Party's Leadership Council, is an exception. He slammed the monks, pointing out that the majority of Sri Lanka's Buddhists are moderate, peace-loving citizens who are repulsed by this spate of violence against religious minorities. The Galle magistrate appears to agree, calling for the arrest of the 26 attackers identified to the court -- including the 10 Buddhist monks -- and reproaching police for not arresting them sooner. The next court hearing is scheduled for Monday 27 January.


* enlighten influential Sri Lankan men and women to the threat posed by militant religious nationalism which promotes hate, fuels intolerance and incites violence; may more Sri Lankans raise their voice against violence, communalism, repression and persecution. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

* embolden the Galle magistrate to set a new precedent by ending impunity, delivering justice and condemning violence as criminal and dangerous, unacceptable and intolerable. (Amos 5:24)

* continue to bless and build his Church in Sri Lanka, raising up more pastors and evangelists, and pouring out his Spirit generously on Sinhalese (Buddhists), Tamils (Hindus) and Muslims alike so they might be one in Christ Jesus. 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (Galatians 3:28 ESV)


Early on Sunday 12 January a church on the outskirts of Colombo in Sri Lanka's west was set on fire. Whilst the blaze was extinguished before much damage was done, a threatening note was left on the gate. Later, two churches in the tourist town of Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka's south coast were attacked by a mob of some 250 protesting Buddhist nationalists, including saffron-robed monks. The protesters smashed doors, windows, furniture and equipment and burnt Bibles and other literature. Derana TV filmed the attacks (see Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog). The Galle magistrate has called for the attackers to be arrested and rebuked police for not arresting them sooner. The court hearing is scheduled for Monday 27 January. Please pray for Sri Lanka, its Church and an end to impunity.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)