Britain-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major rights group, told BosNewsLife there this month saw a "dramatic" increase in attacks against Christians in the country, including Monday, March 3 when the Zion Mount Prayer House in Sri Lanka’s Mulaitivu District was set on fire. "The pastor, his wife, child and two other people were inside at the time, although it is believed they were able to escape."
The previous day ten Bible School students in Lunuwila, Putlam District, were reportedly attacked by ten masked men on motorbikes.
The violence apparently occurred as the students of the Believers Church Bible College were walking from the railway station. "They were beaten, kicked and attacked with rods. More attackers arrived in a van and dragged one student into the vehicle, where he was beaten and kicked. Nine students were treated in hospital for injuries," CSW said in a statement.
PASTOR’S HOME STONED
Elsewhere a mob of 200 people surrounded a local pastor’s home in the village of Udugama in Galle District where he was allegedly to leave or face death. "The crowd also referred to the ethnicity of his wife, who is a Tamil, and warned that his Church, Opma Bible Ministry, could be accused of complicity with terrorism," added CSW, which has close contacts with allegedly persecuted Christians.
It came after in early February three men armed with clubs came to the Sunday school and threatened the church, CSW said.
The attacks are the latest in a series of reported incidents since February, when Pastor Neil Edirisinghe was shot dead. His wife was also shot and wounded, and remains in a critical condition, according to local Christians.
On the same day, February 17, a mob of some 50 people armed with rods attacked King’s Revival Church in the town of Mathugama in Kaluthara District, and assaulted a 10 year-old child, one man and two women, Christians claimed. Earlier, on February 14, a Christian home in the area of Weeraketiya in Hambanthota District was stoned while the local pastor, his wife and two children were inside visiting a sick parishioner, CSW explained. There were no reports of injuries.
CHRISTIANS FACING HARASSMENT
In addition to violence, Christians are apparently facing other forms of harassment. Monday, March 3, local authorities in Gampaha District reportedly revoked approval for the construction of a new church building. The Foursquare Gospel Church had received approval for the new building, but was then ordered to stop construction immediately, CSW said. No reason was given.
CSW Advocacy Director Alexa Papadouris told BosNewsLife that the "severe escalation in violence is deeply troubling." He said, "Although there have been similar periods of hostility towards Christians in Sri Lanka in the past, acts of violence had significantly decreased in the last two years."
Church groups have linked anti-Christian violence to national groups and even some violent Buddhist monks, who launched a wave of attacks against Christian churches and individuals since 2002, in an attempt to discourage a growing number of conversions to Christianity.
Nearly 74 percent of the island’s 19 million people are Sinhalese and about 18 percent are Tamils, who predominate in the north and parts of the east, according to church sources.
About 70 percent of the people are Buddhists, and just over six percent are Christians. Besides reports of persecution, Christians in Sri Lanka are also increasingly in the cross-fire in ongoing fighting between Sri Lanka’s security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels seeking an independent homeland, according to churches and other observers.
CSW’s Papadouris told BosNewsLife that his group has urged Sri Lankan authorities to, in his words "take immediate action to quell this new upsurge of attacks [against Christians] and to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice, and to ensure that a climate of impunity does not develop." (With reporting from Sri Lanka and BosNewsLife Research).