Friday, January 2, 2004

Sri Lanka: situation critical.

Date: Friday 2 January 2004
Subj: Sri Lanka: situation critical.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

The grief accompanying the death of the Buddhist nationalist champion, Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thero, along with all the subsequent and virtually unchallenged false information about a Christian conspiracy to murder him is resulting in the security situation for Christians in Sri Lanka becoming critical. (Link 1)


Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thero (57) was a champion of Buddhist nationalism. He died of a heart attack on 12 December in Russia where he was receiving an honorary doctorate. He was also a diabetic. An autopsy confirmed that heart failure was the cause of death and that Ven. Soma, with a heart condition, had suffered a previous minor heart attack. Buddhist nationalists in Sri Lanka had wanted Ven. Soma's body returned without an autopsy. The Sri Lankan government made a special request to the Russian government for the autopsy to be done in Russia.

Ven. Soma's supporters allege however, that he was number four on a 'hit list' of an unnamed Christian group. They have even named a Christian businessman as being linked to a conspiracy to murder Ven. Soma. (Link 1)

The Sasana Sevaka Sangamaya, a lay organization formed by Ven. Soma, claims it has information that Christian fundamentalists had arranged a sum of US $24,000 to silence him and Medananda Thera. (Link 2)

Thousands of colour posters have appeared which accuse Christians, certain NGOs (non-government organisations), and leading businessmen of hatching a plot to kill Ven. Soma. (Link 3)

Angry, vengeful and grief-striken Buddhist nationalists are embracing the late Venerable Soma's contempt for Christianity and Christian NGOs, and his passion for anti-conversion legislation, with renewed militant fervour.


Venerable Soma referred to NGOs as the instruments of a "diabolical conspiracy" by Christian powers to convert and corrupt the Singhalese Buddhist nation. In the light of such allegations it is not surprising that the office of World Vision in Sri Lanka was attacked on 13 November 2003.

Posters have gone up that read, "Let's defeat the NGO mafia", picturing Ven. Soma walking with the Sri Lankan army. This image sets up an expectation that along with Sri Lanka's monks, the Sri Lankan army should be a protector of Buddhism. It is also "'a veiled rise up call to the military - exhorting it to demonstrate its true patriotic role as the guardian of the Sinhala Buddhist nation,' a leading political columnist for an English weekly published from Colombo told TamilNet." (View posters at TamilNet - Link 4.)


On Monday 29 December 2003, dozens of Buddhist monks protested "unethical conversions" by Christians and demanded anti-conversion laws be enacted immediately. One hundred Buddhist monks of the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya have commenced a hunger strike "unto death" opposite the Buddha Sasana Ministry, urging the government and President Chandrika Kumaratunga to bring in laws to curb unethical conversions. They also charge Christian "fundamentalists" of operating under the guise of NGOs. (Link 5)

(As has been explained in previous WEA RLC reports on Sri Lanka, anti-Christian elements regard all conversions as coerced and unethical. Also, "fundamentalist" generally refers to evangelicals, generally not associated with the mainline denominations, i.e. Baptists, AOGs, independents etc.)

The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) reports that Sri Lankan Roman Catholic Archbishop Rt. Rev. Oswald Gomis and Bishop Rev. Marius Peiris have issued a joint statement expressing their concern over the growing number of complaints on the illegitimate and wrongful conversions, and distancing themselves from "fundamentalist Christian sects, particularly by the more radical elements". This is clearly a self-serving measure in the face of rising anti-Christian hostility.

According to this Daily Mirror article, ". . . anti-Christian slogans have become the order of the day. There are fears that this wrath might spiral to unimaginable levels with the tensions exacerbated by unsubstantiated reports both deliberately and unwittingly propagated." (Link 3)


At Ven. Soma's funeral, some monks called for a "Holy War" upon Christians. (Link 1) One man at the funeral was savagely beaten after being identified as a Christian. (Link 4)

The Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka has documented 14 incidents of violent attacks against churches, house churches, pastors, and Christian families in the 5 days between the 24 December 03 state funeral of Ven. Soma and 29 December.


"The global church and all organizations working for human rights should closely monitor what now is happening on Sri Lanka and contact authorities in Colombo asking them to guarantee religious freedom for everyone in Sri Lanka," says Johan Candelin, Executive Director of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission and Goodwill Ambassador of WEA. "Unless this is done we are probably seeing only the beginning of a "disinformation war and subsequent attacks" against Christians. World Evangelical Alliance will surely take up these attacks at the UN Commission meeting in Geneva this spring (April)."

The articles linked to here are the most detailed reports on this horrific situation - they are essential reading.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Attacks on churches reflect religious tensions in Sri Lanka
By Feizal Samath, InterPress Service, 31 December 2003
Sri Lanka police on guard after attacks on churches
Reuters, 30 Dec 2003

2) Sri Lankan Buddhists Target Christians for Monk's Death
By Champika Liyanaarachchi, Colombo, 23 Dec 2003

3) Ethno-religious insecurities take precedence over peace process
By Champika Liyanaarachchi, Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka 24 Dec 2003

4) Postmortem of xenophobia
TamilNet, 29 December 2003

5) Fasting monks demand anti-conversion laws
Minister promises Cabinet proposal
By Pujitha Wijetunge Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka, 30 Dec 2003