The threats to religious freedom continues around the island with several incidents reported against Christian places of worship in this month. A report compiled by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka based on information received from member churches and affiliates counts 8 incidents of threats to religious freedom and outright attacks on Christian places of worship and religious leaders.
Following is the January incident report:
State Officials Claim the Assemblies of God Church in Hikkaduwa as an Unauthorized Place of Worship and Demand its Closure
On the 05th of January 2014 at approximately 9.30 a.m, whilst the Sunday prayer meeting of the Assemblies of God Church in Hikkaduwa in the Galle district was in progress, five police officers and an officer from the Divisional Secretary’s Department arrived at the pastor’s premises and demanded that prayer meetings held at the premises be stopped. The officers further requested the pastor to come with them to the area police station for an inquiry. However, the pastor refused to stop the prayer meeting and responded that he will attend the inquiry once the prayer meeting was over.
Prior to this incident, on 27th of December 2013, the area Grama Sevaka visited the pastor’s premises and handed over a letter from the Divisional Secretary claiming the religious worship activities conducted by the pastor was unauthorised. The letter explained that prior approval needs to be obtained from the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs in order to continue with the religious worship activities.
Buddhist Monk Attempts to Assault Pastor, OIC Requests Registration of Church
On the 07th of January 2014, the pastor of the Assemblies of God Church in Hikkaduwa in the Galle district, was informed to attend an inquiry held at the area police station at 5 p.m. While the Officer in Charge (OIC) was conducting the inquiry, two other Buddhist monks present began to shout at the pastor demanding that the prayer meetings should stop with immediate effect and attempted to assault the pastor as well. The OIC intervened and stressed that the pastor needs to register his church with the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs. The pastor then questioned the OIC on the legal basis for such a requirement as well as claimed his fundamental rights. However, the OIC insisted that the pastor registers his church. The pastor informed the OIC that he will continue with the prayer meetings since he is not under any legal requirement to stop them.
Mob Attacks Pastor’s Premises in Rathgama
On the 05th of January 2014 at approximately 5 p.m, a Buddhist monk conducting a meeting held at the village school on observing Buddhist rituals, began to speak (from a loud speaker) against the religious worship activities of the Pastor of the Rathgama Christian Church in Rathgama in the Galle district. The Buddhist monk stated that the pastor’s church was an unauthorized place of worship and falsely accused the pastor of unethically converting those in the village. As the pastor’s premises is only a few meters away from the village school, he was able to hear the false allegations spoken against him and his church.
Later on, at approximately 8.50 p.m. the pastor heard vehicles constantly driving past his premises. At around 9.10 p.m. someone knocked on the front door of his house. As the pastor was suspicious, he questioned who it was, but the intruders refused to identify themselves. They continued to knock on the door and after a while they said a sick person needs healing and asked the pastor to open the door. As the pastor became more suspicious concerning the circumstances, he stated loudly that he will call the area police station. Immediately the group of unidentified assailants began to attack the glass windows with poles. The pastor immediately alerted the area police station; the police officers arrived at the location and recorded a statement given by the pastor.
All the glass windows were broken and the pastor suffered damages to the value of Sri Lankan Rupees 50,000.
Police Officers Question the Pastor of the Church of Grace in Warakapola
On the 12th of January 2014, at approximately 2p.m., two police officers visited the premises of the pastor of the Church of Grace in Warakapola in the Kegalle District, and questioned him as to why he had not stopped the worship services held in his premises since he was warned to discontinue the services. The pastor responded by stating his right to religious worship and his fundamental right to continue with the religious worship activities. The police officers informed the pastor that a petition had been submitted to the area police station claiming that the religious worship activities taking place in the pastor’s premises were unauthorized. The pastor was requested to attend a police inquiry on 13th January 2014.
On the 13th of January 2014, the police inquiry commenced at 1.00 pm and the police officers insisted that the religious worship activities held at the premises should be stopped. However, upon the pastor’s refusal to accept the request, the Officer in Charge (OIC) requested that the pastor not hold services only on the 19th January 2014, due to information received by the Police of a threat of attack against the pastor and his congregation. The OIC informed the pastor that a case will be filed in the Magistrates Court against the pastor based on breach of peace in the community.
The case was called in the Magistrate Court on 22nd January 2014; the magistrate gave order for written submissions to be filed on 12th March 2014, defending the cause that the religious worship activities do not hinder the peace in the village community.
Buddhist Monks Threaten to Attack Church in Monaragala
On the 16th of January 2014, the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the area police visited the premises of the Pastor of the Suveya Doratuwa in Bibile in the Monaragala district and questioned him on the legal validity of the church and if the church was registered. The pastor responded with his right to religious worship as a fundamental right. It is important to note that Sri Lankan legislation does not require religious worship places to be registered.
On the 17th of January 2014, a meeting was convened by the Bodu Bala Sena in the village. The said pastor received information from a verified source that the Buddhist monks gathered had declared to the villagers and all those present at the meeting that they will ensure that the church is closed within one month.
The same night a group of unidentified persons uprooted the church name board from the church premises.
On the 20th of January 2014, at approximately 4. p.m a Buddhist monk together with a villager visited the pastor’s neighbourhood and questioned the neighbours on the services held in the church. The Buddhist monk said that he intends to visit the church with a group of villagers to monitor the Sunday services. This was said aloud with the intention of having the pastor hear what was being discussed.
Pastors in Vavuniya Questioned by Criminal Investigation Officers
On the 21st of January 2014, officers from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) telephoned and visited two pastors and requested them to hand over details of their church and the church members in their fellowship.
Place of Worship in Homagama Set on Fire During the Night
On the 12th of January 2014, a place of worship of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Pitipana, Homagama, where Christians gather together for prayer, was set on fire by unidentified persons during the early hours of the morning, at approximately 2.30 a.m. The fire was doused before serious damage was caused. A threatening note was found hanging on the gate of the premises warning the Christians of dire consequences.
Two Churches Attacked by Mobs During Sunday Worship Service
On the 12th of January 2014, the Assemblies of God and the Calvary Free Church in Hikkaduwa (Galle District) came under attack by mobs while engaging in worship services.
Both churches were engaged in Sunday morning worship when at approximately 10.00 a.m., mobs of about 300 persons led by Buddhist monks stormed the respective churches. The first to be attacked was the Assemblies of God, followed by the Calvary church. Serious damage was caused to the two buildings. Stones were thrown at the premises while some worshippers were trapped inside.
The previous night, the pastors of both churches received information of the impending attacks. They went ahead with the worship services based on the guarantee that there will be police protection for the services.
The protesting monks included Buddhist clergy from a group calling themselves ‘Hela Bodu Pawura’ as well as monks from Hikkaduwa and nearby temples. They claimed the Christian presence was illegal. The protesters obstructed the Galle – Colombo main road, creating a tense situation in Hikkaduwa. The situation prevailed past noon, with the Police unable to disperse the mob. A senior police officer who arrived at the scene gave an undertaking to the monks that the churches will be closed for 2 weeks (until 10th February), during which time a solution will be sought. The mobs then dispersed.