VOICE OF THE MARTYRS DELIVERS PETITION FROM KOREAN CHRISTIANS TO SRI LANKAN EMBASSY: “PROTECT OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS”
In the face of increased attacks on Sri Lankan Christians by Buddhist monks, Voice of the Martyrs presented the Sri Lankan Deputy Ambassador and embassy staff with a petition signed by more than 1,000 Korean Christians to prosecute perpetrators of violence and uphold freedom of religion for Christians in Sri Lanka.
On Thursday August 17 at 10:30AM, Voice of the Martyrs Korea President Rev. Dr. Hyun Sook Foley CEO Rev. Dr. Eric Foley delivered a 1,000- signature petition from Korean Christians to the Deputy Ambassador and staff of the Sri Lankan Embassy. The Embassy was notified of the visit ten days in advance.
Signatures were gathered through the Voice of the Martyrs Korea website from May through July 2017. A similar campaign was conducted simultaneously by Voice of the Martyrs’ sister organization in the United Kingdom, Release International, which gathered more than 10,000 signatures to deliver to the Sri Lankan Embassy there.
The petition reads:
“Since the formation of the Sri Lankan government in 2015 there have been very positive steps regarding some of the issues faced by many citizens, for which the administration is to be highly commended.
However, we would urge further, urgent steps be taken in regard to the treatment of Sri Lanka’s Evangelical Christian community, notably through the misuse of a circular produced in 2008 by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs.
Although not based on parliamentary legislation, it is being used either to close down churches or threaten Evangelical Christian to stop their religious worship activities on the pretext that they are not ‘registered’. Local government officials are using the circular to discriminate against Evangelical Christians even though no law exists in Sri Lanka for the registration of church buildings.
We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to cancel this circular so that all citizens are treated fairly and equally under the law. Such action will have a lasting and positive impact on your country.”
VOM Korea’s partner in Sri Lanka, The National Christian Evangelical Alliance (NCEASL) notes with concern the recent wave of attacks against religious minorities, which has rapidly escalated over the past few months. Since the beginning of this year, the NCEASL has documented over 40 incidents of violence and intimidation against Christian places of worship across the country.
Since the current government took office in 2015, over 190 incidents of religious violence against churches, clergy, and Christians have been recorded by the NCEASL. In one such incident, on May 18th, 2017, a large protest against a Christian place of worship was staged in Devinuwara (Matara District), with the participation of approximately 30 Buddhist monks and a mob comprising around 2000 people. The freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka. As such, VOM Korea is saddened that such protests continue to occur unrestrained against minority places of worship in the country.
While attacks and protests of this nature have occurred in the past as well, the increase in the intensity of incidents and the active involvement of local government officials has been a growing cause for concern. Moreover, in addition to attacks, intimidation, and protests, legal restrictions imposed on Christian places of worship have also continued unabated. For instance, the circular issued in 2008 by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs, requiring new constructions of places of worship to register with the government, continues to be misapplied by local authorities to close down churches and threaten Christian clergy to discontinue their religious activities. The circular, however, is not in accordance with Sri Lankan legislation, as there is no legal requirement to register places of worship with the State.
In an attempt to foster reconciliation and healing following the three-decade long war, the present government has committed itself to ensure transitional justice in Sri Lanka. In keeping with its commitments, it is vital, therefore, for the government to speedily arrest the current situation and effectively address attacks on religious minorities in order to ensure the integrity of its reconciliation efforts.
VOM Korea strongly condemns the recent attacks on Christians and Muslims and calls on the government to ensure the protection of minorities and their places of worship. Moreover, in the light of numerous statements made by the State claiming improved human rights standards in the country, VOM Korea calls on the government to take effective measures to prosecute perpetrators of violence and uphold the freedom of religion or belief in Sri Lanka.
“We are thankful that more than 1,000 Korean Christians signed the petition we presented to the Deputy Sri Lankan Ambassador today,” said Voice of the Martyrs President Rev. Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “Korea and Sri Lanka share many important ties, including the presence of peace-loving Buddhist and Christian people in both countries. Our goal in delivering this petition is to encourage the government of Sri Lanka to protect our Sri Lankan Christian brothers and sisters as they live out the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Sri Lankan constitution. We have come to personally know, love, and respect the Sri Lankan Christians. Hebrews 13:3 calls on us not to forget the suffering of Christian brothers and sisters around the world. Now that we know them and have verified the sufferings they are experiencing, we cannot stay silent. We speak respectfully but firmly to the Sri Lankan government: Protect our brothers and sisters.”