Former UNP member led mob attack on women at church in Balapitiya

Balapitiya, Sri Lanka - In a grim reminder that religious intolerance is not yet over, a church in Balapitiya, Zion Prayer Centre in Southern Sri Lanka, was attacked on May 01 by a mob led by a person dressed as a Buddhist monk.

The United National Party former Pradeshiya Sabha member of the area, Leelasena and a member Asela, were also involved in the attack, according to eyewitness accounts.

The monk and the mob assaulted the 27 year old wife of the pastor of the church, kicking her in the groin until she passed urine; they then proceeded to assault two others - a pregnant woman and an old woman before threatening young children, some as young as three years old, before causing considerable damage to the church premises.

The pastor of the church, Priyanjith Perera, who is engaged in tsunami relief work in the area, was away at the time of the attack. The attack comes as a highlight of animosity growing against the tsunami relief operations spearheaded by Christian organizations in the South of the country, a press release from the Religious Liberties Commission of the National Fellowship of Sri Lanka states yesterday.

The National Christian Fellowship of Sri Lanka (NCFSL), the umbrella organization representing the independent indigenous churches in Sri Lanka, condemns the attack-noting that it comes at a time when seeds of religious and racial intolerance seems to have been sowed deeply once again.

With the threat of the Anti-Conversion Bill that seeks to stifle religious freedom looming over the country, endangering Sri Lanka's multi-religious, multi-ethnic composition, the NCFSL expresses its concern about the dastardly act committed against helpless women in a place of worship.

The Balapitiya Police say they are conducting investigations - but NCFSL notes that as often is the case, under pressure, the perpetrators in such instances are allowed to go free. It further notes that even after over 200 attacks against Christian and Catholic places of worship during recent times, hardly any suspects has been brought to book, a fact that has been noted by many international human rights organizations. The NCFSL further expresses its disappointment about the involvement of a United National Party (UNP) member in this attack, taking into consideration that the party is supposed to represent the country's multi-religious, multi-ethnic diversity.

Coming as it does at a crucial time, with international aid hanging in the balance, the NCFSL would like to remind the Government of Sri Lanka that it must honour the international human rights treaties it is signatory to, and ensure that the rights of minorities are ensured within the constitutional framework which guarantees the freedom of expression and the freedom of worship.

The NCFSL also points out that the country's attitude towards minorities seem to be on the decline; the latest attack against a church comes following the abduction and killing of a leading Tamil journalist. The NCFSL appeals to the international community and the international human rights organizations to demand that the Sri Lankan authorities to take appropriate action against the culprits; keeping in mind that Sri Lanka's reputation as a tolerant nation is being replaced with one of religious and racial hatred, a trend that can only bring about a dangerous spiral downwards.