Friday, November 8, 2002

Sri Lanka: Escalating Buddhist Nationalism.

Date: Friday 8 November 2002
Subj: Sri Lanka: Escalating Buddhist Nationalism.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


In recent years, Sri Lanka has seen the rise of an increasingly aggressive Buddhist nationalism, complete with disinformation, discrimination and violent persecution. The movement gained considerable momentum during 2001, especially after Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake suggested there was a conspiracy against Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and urged young men to enter the priesthood in order to protect the religion. He claimed that Buddhism was under threat, even though more than seventy percent of the population is Buddhist (with Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities).

Buddhist leaders have been lobbying the government to ban conversions to Christianity. According to Operation World 21st Century Edition, while Buddhism is growing at 1.1 percent, Protestant Christianity is growing at 3.9 percent and the independent churches are growing at 20.1 percent. Buddhism reportedly loses some 23,000 people each year to Christianity.

Along with Church growth, the trend is increasing social hostility and violent persecution. While the government endorses religious freedom, it appears to be unwilling to engage in political suicide by protecting the Christian minority in this climate of escalating Buddhist nationalism.

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ESCALATING BUDDHIST NATIONALISM

A conference was held in July 2001 with the aim of "making all Buddhists aware of the seriousness of this problem (conversions)." The media release on the conference stated, "The fundamentalist Evangelists who are unethically converting Buddhists to Christianity are one of the main threats to Buddhism." ("Buddhist conference tomorrow at BMICH", by Mallika Wanigasundera, 29 July 2001)

The problem, it claimed, was that "religious freedoms are abused by Evangelists on the assumption that there are no bounds to their activities under the law." Sighting India as a precedent, the Buddhists claimed that, "conversion is not a fundamental right." Other matters to be discussed at the conference were, "Construction of churches, conversion of residences into churches, action brought by Evangelists in the courts over the issue of visas to religious teachers."

The Sinhala Commission Report of July 2001 identified Christianity as the main enemy of Sinhalese culture and religion. According to the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (EASL), this report set a media smear campaign in motion.

"Political and religious leaders are mounting attacks against Christian groups. It also has stirred up anti-Christian sentiment across the country and has given credibility to the accusations of Buddhist extremists.

"Various factions of Buddhist extremists are calling on the government to pass a law to ban conversions. Clerics in several districts have vowed to take collective action against Christians, particularly those working amongst the poverty-stricken rural areas.

"Buddhist leaders and organisations are also exerting pressure on the prime minister and the government to rescind visas for Christian missionaries.

"One of the more vocal Buddhist lobby groups is the Bauddha Sanrakshana Sabhava (BSS) (also known as the Society for the Preservation of Buddhism). The BSS has its headquarters in the Asgiriya Temple in Kandy, and is led by an influential monk, the Venerable Medagama Dharmananda Thero. Their aim is to set up branches in every district to monitor the growth of Christianity and prevent conversions. They also intend to close down churches already established in traditional Buddhist villages." (EASL, CSW)

On top of this, the EASL reports, "The Presidential Commission on Buddhism has recommended that the village monk's decision in a particular village should not be overturned by either the Police or Courts."

This virtually gives Buddhist monks police powers that enable them to act like religious police with ultimate authority and total impunity.
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RESULTING PERSECUTIONS
Recent statements from the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (EASL).

EASL 17 September 2002
THE LORD IS MY STRENGTH WORSHIP CENTRE

On Sunday 15th September an independent church in Padukka (a predominantly Buddhist area south of Colombo) 'The Lord is my Strength Worship Centre' was attacked by a mob led by a Buddhist monk. Around 30 - 35 believers were gathered together on Sunday morning for worship. They were in prayer when at 9 am a monk from a nearby Temple walked in with a mob of about 100 people.

He threatened the stunned believers, ordering them to leave the Church, and instructing the mob to attack them and if necessary kill them. The monk struck the first blow, attacking pastor Shun Turin with his umbrella. When he fell to the ground from a blow to his stomach, the monk picked up a wooden chair and dealt two brutal blows to the pastor's head. The entire gathering was witness to this. As he lay bleeding the mob overran the church assaulting the believers - including women and children - with wooden chairs from the church, window bars, and iron rods removed from the church drum set. The injured included a 10 month-old baby.

The church building and property within were destroyed including furniture, musical instruments and Bibles. The building was totally demolished and the roof has caved in. Meanwhile the incident was reported to the Padukka police and the believers identified the monk and some of the attackers. However, the police have not taken any action.

EASL Friday 18 Oct 2002
BETHLEHEM CHURCH

Pastor Stephen Yogarajah from Bethlehem Church Chilaw, Sri Lanka, was returning from a prayer meeting in Karukupana village with his wife and 11 year-old son. It was around 9.30 p.m. At Kodolkela 12 km from Chilaw 10-15 hooded men with masks blocked the road and started attacking the vehicle and the people in it with bars, poles, and clubs. The vehicle was badly smashed up and the occupants in the vehicle were also injured.

Pastor Yogarajah suffered injuries on his hand and head, while his wife is nursing a fractured arm. The 11year-old son was admitted to hospital with head injuries requiring stitches. The men had also attempted to gas the family by connecting the car LP gas tubes to the petrol connector.

EASL Monday 21 October 2002
ASSEMBLY OF GOD WORSHIP CENTRE

Assembly of God worship centre Weerawilla. One of Sister Lalani Jayasinghe's branch churches in Weerawilla was burnt down last week on October 13th. Sister Lalani Jayasinghe is the wife of Pastor Lionel Jayasinghe who was martyred in 1987 in Tissamaharama South of Sri Lanka.

An unidentified group of men set fire to the worship hall and also to a believer's home situated nearby. The house and worship centre were completely burned down. The believer lost all his belongings and is now without a home. Two bikes parked in the premises and a water-pump were also destroyed by the mob.

END

- Elizabeth Kendal

Further reading: U.S. Department of State International Religious
Freedom Report for 2002 - Sri Lanka.
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/14027.htm

BELARUS: Perestroika reversed, but pressure mounts on Lukashenko.

Date: Monday 18 November 2002
Subj: Perestroika reversed, but pressure mounts on Lukashenko.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


On 31 October 2002 - Reformation Day - Belarus' President Aleksandr Lukashenko signed the highly repressive new religion law - regarded by Keston Institute as the most restrictive in Europe. The Religion Law has been compared to Stalin's 1929 decree on religious associations, which imposed severe restrictions on religious activity for almost the entire Soviet period. There is strong support for the new law from the Moscow Patriarchate. (Link 1)

Belarusian parliamentarian Syarhey Kastsyan recently defended the new law. He said it is intended to erect a barrier against Western clergy who "creep into Belarus and discredit Slavic values." (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. 4 October 2002).

The oppressive new religion law entered into legal force on Saturday 16 November 02. Keston Institute reported, "From then (16 Nov 2002), all unregistered religious activity will be illegal; all communities with fewer than 20 members will become illegal; any religious activity in private homes - apart from occasional, small scale meetings - will be illegal; religious communities that do not have a registered umbrella body will not be able to invite foreign citizens for religious work; and all religious literature will be subject to compulsory prior censorship. In addition, all religious organisations will have to be compulsorily re-registered within two years." (Link 2)

However - pressure is mounting on President Lukashenko, from Belarusian churches vowing to obey God rather than man, from the European Union that votes tomorrow (Tuesday 19 Nov) to enforce a travel ban on the "dictator", and from NATO that is refusing to entertain Lukashenko's presence at the forthcoming summit. Lukashenko is even finding his long-time ally, Russia, no longer totally amenable, as Putin and Lukashenko appear have come down on opposite sides of the War on Terror.

INTERNAL PRESSURE MOUNTS ON LUKASHENKO

PRESS-RELEASE OF INFORMATIONAL CENTRE "FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE" 13.11.02

OPEN DECLARATION

"On 31 October 2002 the President of the Republic of Belarus signed the Law "About Freedom of Faith and Religious Organizations". Once again the authorities totally ignored the opinion of thousands of Belarusian citizens and millions of Christians all over the world.

"The entry of this law into force will be a blow to freedom of conscience, one of the fundamental freedoms given to individuals by God and on which basic democratic institutions are founded. We believe that in this case the authorities have exceeded the powers given by God.

"The best periods in Belarus' history were the periods of inter-religious tolerance. The violation of such tolerance in the seventeenth century brought about a chronic national crisis. What will such anti-Biblical measures by the authorities bring at the beginning of the twenty first century?

"The newly-adopted law forces us to violate the basic Law on which our faith is based: the Law of God. As believers, we have the full right not to obey laws and decrees that go against our faith and conscience, following the Biblical principle, 'We ought to obey God rather than men'."

On behalf of Association of Full Gospel Churches,
in the Republic of Belarus,
President Alexander Sakovich 01.11.02
Informational Centre "FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE"
Contacts: phone 276 07 54
E-mail: infarmacyja@hotmail.com

EUROPEAN PRESSURE MOUNTS ON LUKASHENKO

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has long been a thorn in Lukashenko's side as it has pressured the Belarusian government to reverse it's declining human rights standards and self-imposed isolation.

On 23 October 2002 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL - http://www.rferl.org/) reported that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry had decided that the Advisory and Monitoring Group for the OSCE, would no longer be allowed to operate in Belarus "in its current form."

It appears however, that Lukashenko is stepping too far over the line and a European backlash is being unleashed.

EUROPEAN UNION

In a statement on Wednesday 13 November, the 15-nation EU chided Lukashenko for continuing to violate the democratic and human rights standards of the OSCE.

A BBC article of 15 November entitled, "EU considers 'dictator' ban", reported that the European Union is planning to ban Lukashenko, and up to 50 members of his government, from travelling to EU and candidate countries because of continuing violations of democracy and human rights. "The banning decision will be taken by EU foreign ministers on Tuesday and will enter into force immediately. So far it is just a proposal on the agenda of the foreign ministers' meeting, but correspondents say it is likely to be passed."

The Times of London reported on 16 November, "Diplomatic sources confirmed yesterday that all EU governments were fully behind the initiative. The text that ministers will approve notes: 'Serious violations of human rights and recurrent restrictions on fundamental freedoms imposed by the Government of Belarus, such as the recent approval of the law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations, are in clear contradiction with European democratic
tandards.'"

NATO

On Friday 15 November 2002, Czech authorities decided to refuse to grant Lukashenko a visa to attend the NATO summit being held in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, this week.

The Associated Press quoted Czech Foreign minister Cyril Svoboda as saying, "We are convinced that the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms is not taking place in Belarus. Lukashenko would use this visit to legitimise his position at home". (Link 3 and 4)

The Belarus government is threatening to cut off diplomatic relations with Czech Republic in retaliation for the move. Lukashenko has also threatened to open Belarus's borders to allow a flood of illegal immigrants and drugs into a Europe unprepared to accept his presence. (Link 4)

RUSSIA

On 15 November 2002, RFE/RL reported that, "Russia is finally beginning to turn against its long-time ally Lukashenka, and that this could spell the end of Lukashenka and the start of democracy."

Hans-Georg Wieck was head of the OSCE monitoring and advisory mission in Minsk before it was shut down is not as optimistic as others. In his opinion, Moscow still has clear designs on Minsk, "We should have no illusions that for the prevailing mood in Moscow, Belarus is a Russian province," he said.

RFE/RL went on to report that "Vincuk Vyachorka, the leader of the Belarusian National Front opposition party, said the most Belarus could hope for from Russia is for it to withdraw its support for Lukashenka and not to compromise Minsk's sovereignty.

"To that end, Viachorka and others urged the U.S. to use its leverage with Russia to effect change in Belarus. Viachorka also expressed hope the U.S. Congress would pass the Belarus Act, a bill under consideration in both houses that proposes further isolating Minsk and giving robust economic assistance to the opposition in a bid to bring down Lukashenka.

"The bill has yet to come up for vote and appears to be a low priority, although further revelations about arms sales to Iraq would do a lot to bring Lukashenka to the attention of U.S. lawmakers. Senator McCain, a top Republican presidential candidate in 2000, said he is hopeful the new Congress will pass the bill sometime next year.

"With the U.S. and Russia allied in the war on terror, McCain added that he hopes Putin will realize that Moscow's backing of Minsk is a stain on his reputation in the West. He said it is clear that without Russian support, 'there would be no Lukashenka.'" (Link 5)

- Elizabeth Kendal


Links

1) KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 8 October 2002
BELARUS: Pressure Mounts on President to Vet Repressive Religion Law.

2) KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 14 November 2002.
"BELARUS: Repressive Religion Law Enters Force on Saturday."

3) The Associated Press
"Belarus President Denied Entry Visa"
Friday, November 15, 2002; 10:38 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58773-2002Nov15.html

4) The International Herald Tribune
"Prague bars Belarus President" by Susan B. Glasser
Saturday, November 16, 2002
http://www.iht.com/articles/77181.html (recommended reading)

5) RFE/RL "Belarus: Conference In Washington Urges 'Regime Change'
In Minsk" By Jeffrey Donovan 15 November 2002
http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2002/11/15112002183853.asp

NATO summit - http://www.natosummit.cz/en/

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Cote d'Ivoire: The Foreign Muscle Behind the Rebellion.

Date: Tuesday 5 November 2002
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: The Foreign Muscle Behind the Rebellion.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference

By Elizabeth Kendal


A tense peace presently hangs over Cote d'Ivoire (CI) as a truce now moves into its 18th day. Meanwhile in Lome, the capital city of Togo, representatives of the CI government of President Gbagbo wait to see if the rebels will return to the negotiating table. There was a break in talks over the weekend to enable the rebels' political representative, Guillaume Soro, to return to Cote d'Ivoire in order to report to his group about the meetings.

Peace talks were set to resume in Lome yesterday, Monday 4 November at midday, however, the rebels did not show up. Talks were postponed and should recommence today (Tuesday 5 November). The prospects certainly look grim as the primary rebel demand is the resignation of President Gbagbo and fresh elections and this is not an option the government will consider.

Most analysts now believe the uprising must be either state-sponsored or network-sponsored. It appears that Christianity in Cote d'Ivoire is not up against a few disgruntled or aggrieved local Muslims, but a monstrous, wealthy, powerful and deadly serious foe.

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REBELS DEFIANT


On Sunday 3 November, Reuters reported, "In the rebels' northern stronghold of Bouake, thousands of supporters marched in the center of the city to hear their chief political representative, Guillaume Soro, report on the outcome of three days of talks last week.

"A Reuters correspondent said Soro told the crowd the small steps taken by negotiators in those sessions were not enough. 'If our political demands are not met at the negotiations, we are ready to resume the war,' Soro said to loud cheers. '"We will never accept disarmament,' Soro said at the Bouake rally. 'We took up arms to demand the departure of Gbagbo. If not for that, we would not have started fighting.'

"Mohamed ibn Chambas, the top official of the Economic Community of West African States bloc (ECOWAS) which is mediating in the conflict, said he was 'very surprised' by Soro's statements about the necessity for Gbagbo to leave. 'That's not what he (Soro) was saying during the negotiations last week,' Chambas told Reuters in Lome." (Link 1)

FOREIGN MUSCLE

It is widely believed now, that foreign muscle is driving the rebellion. This is tragic because the ultimate losers will be all citizens of Cote d'Ivoire who have lived in relative peace and who could no doubt have solved their problems through dialogue and democratic means. War can only mean massive loss off of life, destabilization, and vulnerability to exploitation.

Most analysts believe that the uprising must be either state-sponsored or network-sponsored, as the funds involved are way beyond any purely local group. France is implicated as compliant,
neighbouring Burkina Faso is implicated as aggressive; al Qaeda is implicated and is even alleged to have established militant cells in Cote d'Ivoire. More recently, Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is implicated. It is alleged by independent French media that Gadhafi is either directly or indirectly funding and /or arming the rebels.

There is most surely a drive from the wider Islamist umma to claim Cote d'Ivoire for Islam. This should come as no surprise in this post-Sept 11 age, where an embrace of militant Islam is often more of an anti-West protest statement that a religious conviction. One only needs to look at the post-October 2001 election results in nations with a Muslim majority, such as Bangladesh, Bahrain, Pakistan, Turkey and the state elections in Malaysia, to see how the "War on Terror" (labelled in the Islamic world as the "War on Islam" has been used to draw many many "folk", "moderate" and "secular" Muslims into the radical camp. The "War on Terror" has been like petrol on the flames of the Islamic renewal and militant Islamist movements.

The radicalisation of many of Cote d'Ivoire's Muslims however, goes back further than October 2001 and is far subtler. Due to the fact that they learn in Arabic, graduates of CI's Quranic schools have not been able to qualify for University entrance into Cote d'Ivoire Universities. Graduates of CI's Quranic schools therefore have in recent decades, travelled to Cairo, Egypt and Medina, Saudi Arabia to study. They have gradually and quietly replaced much of Cote d'Ivoire's folk or "moderate" Islam with educated, Orthodox, Quranic Islam.

This has been a very subtle and quiet movement that is only now manifesting itself in a way that seriously and immediately threatens the future of the nation. It has taken many foreign (but not Ivorian) observers by surprise.

Reuters and AFP photographers are now photographing rebels and northern Muslims sporting T-shirts with a picture of Osama bin Laden's face over a map of Cote d'Ivoire. It has also been established that the rebels have access to a seemingly limitless supply of sophisticated arms, including armoured vehicles. It is alleged that large quantities of arms and ammunitions were brought into northern Cote d'Ivoire, through compliant neighbours and stored in mosques and homes many months in advance in preparation for this uprising. Rebel leader Guillaume Soro, has even boasted that the rebels and their supporters could fight the government for two years
without a supply problem.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS

It appears that Christianity in Cote d'Ivoire is not up against a few disgruntled or aggrieved local Muslims, but a monstrous, wealthy, powerful and deadly serious foe. What happens in Cote d'Ivoire will most certainly have implications for many other African nations. For Cote d'Ivoire is not unlike many other nations in Africa, with a large Christian population, non-Muslim government, growing Church, freedom of religion -- yet made vulnerable through economic crisis or ethnic tensions, to the exploitation and infiltration of men with ambitious visions (like Colonel Gadhafi) or nations with religious designs (like Saudi Arabia) or organisations with political purpose (like al Qaeda). If Cote d'Ivoire goes down, it could set a precedent for much of "Christian" Africa, which is equally as unstable.

Links
1) Reuters "Ivory Coast rebels in no mood for compromise" 4 November 2002
http://www.asia.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=1672204
ALSO
CNN "Scepticism mars Ivory Coast talks," Monday, 4 November 2002
http://asia.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/africa/11/04/ivorycoast.talks.reut/index.html

Reuters "Ivory Coast rebels threaten peace-talks pullout" 5 November2002
http://www.asia.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=1677332