The landslide victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka’s 5 August general election opens the door for his government to introduce anti-conversion legislation.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) won 145 seats in the 225-member Parliament, giving the Buddhist nationalist president an overall majority. Subsequent negotiations with political allies and smaller parties suggest the new government is also close to securing the two-thirds majority necessary to make the constitutional changes needed for anti-conversion legislation.
In March 2020, prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of the president and a leading member of the majority Sinhala Buddhist community, hinted to the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress that he would introduce laws criminalising conversions if he could be confident of receiving the support of parliament.
Nationalist Buddhist monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, who had played a key role in the past as secretary of a Buddhist nationalist organisation called Bodu Bala Sena by inciting violence towards the non-Buddhist minority communities, was awarded a seat in parliament. He was nominated by the Our Power of People Party for a National List parliamentary seat.
The election result was described by a local pastor as “very concerning” for the minority Christian community. “But our God is in control,” added the pastor.
Concern was expressed for the majority of evangelical Christians who belong to unregistered churches, and are mainly converts. “Those who have registered as a mainline church … will have some protection,” said a pastor. “Unregistered churches are mostly poor, rural-based and not educated in their fundamental rights. We may face situations where pastors and believers [are] not realising the government restrictions and get themselves in trouble.”
Anti-conversion legislation would probably criminalise conversions “by force, fraud and allurement”. This would be similar to the
anti-conversion laws in place in several states of neighbouring India. These Indian laws, interestingly called “Freedom of Religion” laws, ban the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. Their vague terms make Christians actively sharing their faith vulnerable to false accusation and many Indian Christians have been harassed and persecuted under these laws.
From Barnabas Fund contacts