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Sri Lanka : Statement condemning continued attacks on places of worship of religious minorities by Buddhist extremist mobs

23 January 2014

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23rd January, 2014

Statement condemning the continued attacks on religious places of worship by Buddhist extremist mobs, the inaction of the Police and the silence of the mainstream religions and the mass media

We the undersigned, strongly condemn the continuing attacks on places of worship by Buddhist extremist mobs, the inaction of the Police in the face of these violent attacks and their failure to take the assailants into custody, and the silence of the established religious institutions and mainstream media.

We are outraged over the spate of violent attacks against places of worship of religious minorities, including those of Christians, Muslims and Hindus, and remain deeply concerned at the apparent State complicity and level of impunity enjoyed by certain extremist groups. Between January to September 2013, 227 attacks against Muslim places of worship and other institutions[1] have been recorded, and in the year 2013, 103 cases of attacks on Christian Churches and Pastors have been recorded.[2] During the same period many Hindu temples too have been attacked[3] around the country. The actual number of incidents is much higher, as many incidents remain unreported, due to fear of reprisals and the lack of confidence in law enforcement agencies.

We urge all communities to respect the religious beliefs and constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of assembly in the act of worship of their fellow citizens, and not to be misled by the bigoted propaganda of hate groups.

The most recent attacks took place at around 10am, on January 12, 2014, when the Assemblies of God (AoG) and Calvary Churches in Hikkaduwa (Galle district), were attacked by a 300-strong mob led by men in saffron robes claiming to be “Buddhist monks”, party to an extremist group named Hela Bodu Pawra (loosely translated as Buddhist Heritage Fortress), during their Sunday morning service. Serious damage was caused to the two buildings. Stones were also thrown at the premises while some worshippers were trapped inside. On the night before these attacks (11), the pastors of both churches had received information of the impending attacks, and having informed the Police, were guaranteed protection and instructed to go ahead with the regular service of worship the following morning. Still the Police was still unwilling or unable to stop the mobs from attacking these churches and further, refrained from using legally permitted minimum force at least, to dispel these mobs. (However, on previous instances, the police and security forces have shown very little restraint in using maximum force such as tear gas and even gun fire, as evident during the Free Trade Zone[4] and Weliweriya[5] protests for instance.)

The violent mob alleged that these­­­ churches were not registered with the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs, and were therefore illegal. The tense situation prevailed past 12pm, with the Police unwilling to disperse those engaged in these acts of violence. A senior police officer who arrived at the scene gave an assurance to the monks that the churches would be closed for 2 weeks (until 10th February, 2014), during which time the issue would be resolved. Thereafter, the mob had dispersed.

In another incident earlier in the morning on the 12th at around 2.30am, a place of worship of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Pitip­­­­ana, Homagama, was set on fire by unidentified persons, and a threatening note was found hanging on the gate of the premises warning Christians who gather there of possible dire consequences. [6]

On the following day (13), the Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana stated that the police have compiled a report on the attacks and submitted a list of identified suspects (inclusive of 8 monks), to the courts, and that all investigations concerning protests and demonstrations related to religion will be handed over to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs. It is ironic that investigative duties coming within the direct purview of the Police have, in this instance, been handed over to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs. This action is however in keeping with the trend initiated by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, in their Circular dated 16th October, 2008, which calls on all new religious places of worship to obtain written approval from the Ministry prior to the setting up/maintaining of such places. This raises the troubling question as to why a multi-ethnic and religious country must seek approval from a Ministry that clearly prioritizes one religion over the rest, by its name alone. Whilst acknowledging that there must be a central and independent body to register/monitor churches and places of worship, we find there lies a conflict of interest in a Ministry tasked (although not exclusively,) to further Buddhism, being the sole authority on approving/registering other places of worship.

The deafening silence on the part of mainstream religious institutions in relation to these attacks, is appalling, albeit not surprising, considering their unwillingness to show solidarity with each other and to confront the government, with the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka being the one exception.

We welcome and reiterate the open letter published by the Muslim Council to President Mahinda Rajapakse calling on him to “...order the law enforcement agencies to rein-in these mobs that infringe on the peoples fundamental right to worship. Should there be any breach of law by any individual or groups, we kindly urge that due process is followed and necessary legal action is taken without letting individuals or religious groups to take the law in to their own hand.”

We also note with growing concern that Breaking News Alert Service or mainstream media institution has given little or no coverage to these attacks, or previous attacks instigated by Buddhist extremist groups.

Further, we wish to highlight and commend the orders made by the Galle Additional Magistrate to the Hikkaduwa Police on 16th January, and ask that they be implemented with immediate effect. The orders call on the Police to arrest all identified suspects immediately, and all media institutions to provide the police with unedited footage of the attacks, to assist with ongoing investigations.

We therefore urge law enforcement authorities to ensure strict adherence to rule of law and prosecute those who are responsible for these heinous crimes, in the existence of abundant evidence available with the public and media organisations. In addition, we are very disturbed to see continued Police inaction and delays in responding to incidents of racist mob violence, which is a clear indication of State complicity, and the lack of any interest by the newly minted Ministry of Law and Order headed by the President, to hold perpetrators to account.

Signatures;

Individuals

1. Ahilan Kadirgamar

2. Ajit Abeysekera

3. Ameena Hussein

4. Anberiya Hanifa

5. Anushan Selvarajah

6. Anushaya Collure

7. Asoka Obeyesekere

8. B. Gowthaman

9. B. Skanthakumar

10. Bhavani Fonseka

11. Buddhima Padmasiri

12. C. Dissanayake

13. Cayathri Divakalala

14. Chamira Perera

15. Chandralal Colombage

16. Chandrika De Silva - Freelance Journalist

17. Chandula Kumbukage

18. Damaris Wickremesekera

19. Deanne Uyangoda

20. Deborah Philip

21. Devika Karunaratne

22. Dilhara Pathirana

23. Dilshy Banu

24. Dr. G. Chris Rodrigo

25. Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai

26. Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

27. Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran

28. Emil van der Poorten

29. Faizun Zackariya

30. Farzana Haniffa

31. G.A. Prabath Kumara - Chief Coordinator, Future In Our Hands Development Fund , Badulla

32. Gajen Mahendra

33. Godfrey Yogarajah - Executive Director, Religious Freedom, World Evangelical Alliance

34. Herman Kumara

35. Hilmy Ahamed

36. J. Henry de Mel

37. Jansila Majeed

38. Jayasingam. T

39. Jayatilaka Kammallaweera

40. Joe William

41. Johann Tranchell

42. Jovita Arulanantham

43. K. Rajaledsumi

44. K.S. Ratnavale

45. Kumari Kumaragamage

46. Kusal Perera – Journalist

47. Lakshan Dias – Attorney-at-Law

48. M. H. Mohamed Hisham

49. M.N. Mohideen

50. Maduka Peiris

51. Mahaluxumi Kurushanthan

52. Mahendran Thiruvarangan

53. Marisa de Silva

54. Melisha Yapa

55. Michael Mendis

56. Mirak Raheem

57. Mohammed Mahuruf

58. Nicola Perera

59. Nilantha Ilangamuwa

60. Nilshan Fonseka

61. Nimalka Fernando

62. Nirmanusan Balasundaram

63. Niyanthini Kadirgamar

64. P.N. Singham

65. Padmini Weerasooriya

66. Prof. Jayantha Seneviratne - University of Kelaniya

67. Prof. Kumar David - Marx School

68. R.M.B. Senanayake

69. Ranil D. Guneratne

70. Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Sebamalai

71. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos

72. Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga

73. Rev. Fr. Ravichandran Emmanuel

74. Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda

75. Ruki Fernando

76. S. M. Praveen – OMI

77. Sampath Samarakoon

78. Sanjana Hattotuwa

79. Sanjaya Senanayake

80. Shantha Pathirana

81. Shreen Abdul Saroor

82. Silma Mohideen Ahamed

83. Siritunga Jayasuriya - United Socialist Party

84. Srinath Perera – Attorney-at-Law & General Secretary, Free Trade Union Centre

85. Sritharan Sritharuni

86. Stalingeorge Nishanthini

87. Sumathy Sivamohan

88. Sunanda Deshapriya

89. Sunil Jayasekera

90. T. Mathuri – Attorney-at-Law

91. Taanya Tranchell

92. Tehani Ariyaratne

93. Thiruni Kelegama

94. U.L. Jaufer

95. Udaya Kalupathirana

96. Victor Panangala

Organizations

97. Almuslimaath

98. Association of Family Members of the Disappeared

99. Buddhist Liberation Front

100. Center for Social Concerns, Ja-Ela

101. Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)

102. Free Media Movement

103. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Center

104. Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum

105. National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka

106. National Peace Council of Sri Lanka (NPC)

107. Secretariat for Muslims (SFM)

108. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka

[1] Address by Ms. Flavia Pansieri United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 25 September 2013 - http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13820&LangID=E

[2] Source: National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka - http://nceasl.org/

[3] Colombo Telegraph, Dambulla Kovil Attacked; Hindu Politico Says Mosques And Kovils Must Not Be Shifted - https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/dambulla-kovil-attacked-hindu-politico-says-mosques-and-kovils-must-not-be-shifted/ & Tamil Guardian, Attacks on Hindu temples escalate - http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=4839

[4] The Sunday Leader, FTZ Worker Succumbs To Injuries - http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/06/01/ftz-worker-succumbs-to-injuries/

[5] The Republic Square - Akila Dinesh, 17-year old killed during Weliweriya clash - http://www.therepublicsquare.com/politics/2013/08/02/akila-dinesh-17-year-old-killed-at-weliweriya-clash/

[6] Incident details – Source: National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka - http://nceasl.org/category/religious-liberty/incident-reports/