Colombo urged to act on church attacks

[TamilNet, Monday, 13 October 2003, 20:25 GMT]
The National Peace Council, a Sri Lankan peace group called on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's government Monday to investigate and prevent recent attacks on Christian churches. Sinhala nationalists and powerful sections of the Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy charge that Christian churches, particularly evangelical groups funded from the west, are engaged in an aggressive effort to convert Buddhists to Christianity by what they claim to be "unethical" and "unscrupulous" means.

They are urging Colombo, invoking Article 9 of Sri Lankaís constitution, to introduce strict measures to stop the conversions. Article 9 says that Buddhism is Sri Lankaís state religion and that it is the duty of the government to foster it and ensure its primacy.

Sinhala Buddhist nationalists across the political spectrum have long argued about a "Christian Conspiracy" to undermine the roots of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Christian groups affected by the campaign against conversions say that Sinhala nationalists and sections of the Buddhist clergy were directly involved in some recent attacks on churches and converts. They say that Police are generally reluctant to initiate action to prevent the incidents.

The issue is hotly debated in the Sinhala and English press in Colombo. The majority of writers and Sinhala opinion makers are against Christian conversions.

Few, such as Mr. Zernie Wijesooriya, ex chief of Sri Lankaís National Intelligence Bureau (NIB, now called the Directorate of Internal Intelligence), have attempted to present and argue the Christian point of view in the press.

Mr. Wijesooriya was a lay preacher of an evangelical Church called "Assembly of God" even while he was serving as the head of the NIB.

Liberal Sinhala political analysts argue that suspicions among Sri Lanka's majority the Sinhala Buddhists about the involvement of US and other major western powers in the island's peace process could be further exacerbated by the issue of conversions to Christianity, leading to anti-western sentiments, which, according to them, is already being stoked by the JVP.

Buddhist detractors of church activities among Singhalese also allege that many Christians with a hidden agenda are involved in the current peace process.

Dr. Jehan Perera, one of the leading members of the National Peace Council (NPC), is a Christian.

The following is an excerpt of the NPC release.

"There have been a series of attacks in recent times against Christian churches in different part of the country. The contention that some of these churches are alleged to be engaged (sic) in unethical conversions, exploiting the poverty of the people, has been used to justify these attacksî.

"There is also an insidious campaign to couple the issue of religious conversions to that of Christian involvement in the promotion of the peace process, and thereby erode the people's confidence in it.

"In a plural and multi-religious country, the protection of the right of people to enjoy freedom of conscience and religion is a very important one.

The right is both enshrined in the Sri Lanka Constitution and in international covenants. Therefore, the government has a duty to investigate these incidents and take action to ensure that they will not recur."

 

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