Last year, a mob of around 100 people, led by two Buddhist monks, forced their way into a church service in Alawwa, 40 miles north-east of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, and threatened to assault the pastor unless he stopped the meeting. The mob then attempted to assault a young female member of the church and demanded to know if the church had been registered. When the church pastor reported the incident to the police, the officer in charge refused to lodge a formal complaint and told the pastor that he should stop all worship activities. He also said that police would not provide the pastor or church with any protection.
Sri Lanka’s constitution states that Buddhism shall have “the foremost place”, a status which is supported by the country’s Buddhist ethnic Sinhalese majority. Harassment by local Buddhist monks and police is commonplace, with Buddhists often claiming that churches need to be “registered” to operate, although this is not in fact a legal requirement. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka recorded 55 incidents of persecution in 2015 and a further 45 in the first half of 2016.
Christians comprise around 8% of Sri Lanka’s population, although there are also significant numbers of Hindus (14%) and Muslims (9%). The largest Christian population is in Tamil areas in the north and east of Sri Lanka. A 26-year civil war between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and predominantly Hindu Tamil separatists ended in victory for the government in 2009. As a result of the war many Christian communities were dispersed and at least 100 church buildings destroyed. Tamils continue to be discriminated against, Christian Tamils doubly so, because of their faith and ethnicity. Many Sri Lankan Christians in rural areas are very poor and work on tea plantations where they are harassed and exploited.
Pray that Christians will have strength and courage in the face of persecution from Buddhist extremists, and that political pressure from the country’s powerful Buddhist Sinhalese lobby will not succeed in restricting Christians’ freedom of worship.