Uphold freedom of religion

SANSAD News-release June 20, 2014

 

Stop attacks on religious minorities in Sri Lanka

 

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) deplores the attack by Buddhist mobs on minority Muslims in the southern Sri Lankan towns of Aluthgama and Beruwela on June 15 that have left 3 dead, 78 seriously injured, dozens of homes and shops burnt down, and several mosques damaged. We deplore the spate of violence against religious minorities by Buddhist extremists in the last few years in which Christians and Muslims have been attacked and their places of worship stoned or set on fire.We urge the government of Sri Lanka to ensure the security of religious minorities and protect their places of worship.

A number of extremist Buddhist organizations, such as Bodu Bala Sena, BBS (Buddhist Force), which was involved in the latest violence, Buddhist Brigade, and Buddhist Heritage Fortress, have been attacking the clergy, worshippers, and places of worship of Christians and Muslims in the last few years. These groups are often led by Buddhist monks, some of whom have been recorded on video engaging in attacks on churches in southern Sri Lanka. In 2013 there were more than 300 attacks on Muslim and Christian places of worship. Yet the government has done little to stop this violence.

The latest incident took place despite the prior appeal of Muslim legislators to President Mahinda Rajapaksha for protection of their community against Buddhist extremists and the specific warning by the Justice Minister, Rauf Hakeem against allowing a demonstration of BBS in the predominantly Muslim towns. On the contrary, in March 2014 Sri Lanka government arrested two of the most prominent human rights activists, Ruki Fernando and Father Parveen Mahesan, in Killinochchi in northern Sri Lanka, under anti-terrorism legislation that allows detention without trial for 18 months. They were detained on the suspicion of inciting racial or religious hatred or violence between ethnic groups. Human rights organizations and civil society groups in Sri Lanka have declared these allegations outrageous.

President Rajapaksha has condemned the violence in southern Sri Lanka and has assured that the culprits will be brought to justice. This is much to be desired though not very hopeful on the basis of the government’s record. We demand that this promise be kept. We congratulate the Government of Canada for its statement of condemnation of this incident and upholding the right of religious freedom. As an organization of the South Asian diaspora in Canada we appeal to all governments to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to protect the rights of minorities to practice their faith without any intimidation and violence.

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