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Sri Lanka

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This church building in Sri Lanka was severely damaged in a mob attack  

Sri Lanka’s constitution affords Buddhism, which is practised by about 70% of the population, “the foremost place”. This elevated status is exploited by a powerful ethnic Sinhalese and Buddhist nationalist lobby, which demands rights and privileges for itself at the expense of other religions. The lobby, which is particularly opposed to Christianity, campaigns for the introduction of anti-conversion legislation that would hinder Christian activities.

This political pressure is accompanied by a violent extremist movement on the ground. At least 65 anti-Christian incidents, including mob attacks on churches, were recorded in 2013. Church leaders are particularly at risk of violence and harassment, and churches may be forcibly closed. Pressure from Buddhist monks closed down over 40 churches and house churches in Sri Lanka in 2013. While the government claims to uphold religious freedom, it does little to investigate or prevent attacks by Buddhist extremists.

Pastor Pradeep was out when a violent mob of Buddhist extremists descended on his home, which is used for worship. The assailants vandalised the property and threatened the pastor’s wife, who called the police, but they could not contain the mob. The attack continued for three and a half hours. This onslaught followed a series of other forcible attempts to end Pastor Pradeep’s ministry.

Christians face difficulties in building churches, and may be ordered to stop activities that have not been “authorised” by the state. The government plans to introduce legislation prohibiting “cults”; this could threaten evangelical churches, which are not recognised by the state.

Christians, who make up around 7% of the population, also experience discrimination in education. Many have continued to live in desperate poverty since their homes and churches were destroyed in the 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

Christianity has a long history on the island, pre-dating the arrival of Westerners by many centuries. Tradition claims that Sri Lanka was first evangelised by the apostle Thomas. Small Christian communities existed on the coasts of Sri Lanka during the succeeding centuries, but Christianity made significant progress only from the sixteenth century. Despite this long-standing presence, the faith is perceived by many Sri Lankans as a product of Western colonialism.

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