Christmas is a time of joy, but also of fear for Christians in rural areas of Sri Lanka.
Yamini Ravindran, National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka’s (NCEASL) advocacy officer, said, “Christmas is commercialized for the Christians residing in the main city areas; however, for most Christians in the rural or Buddhist-dominant villages it is a completely different scenario. It is an event filled with joy and fear for them. Joy to remember the birth of Christ—fear to conduct services boldly and fear of attacks against churches, pastors, or Christian members.”
Open Doors warned that Sri Lankan Christians may be under increasing persecution as Christmas nears in the mostly Buddhist nation. Citing recent reports from NCEASL, Open Doors said in a Dec. 19 email that “Christians in Sri Lanka are likely to take extra precautions as they hold their Christmas gatherings and celebrations this month.” The NCEASL noted several recent instances of persecution, including the Dec. 5 visit from authorities who told a pastor to “stop all religious worship activities taking place on his premises” in southern Sri Lanka, according to Open Doors.
“Most Christians who share the message of Christ face serious intimidation, threats or attacks,” Ravindran said, noting that as recently as Dec. 22 a pastor’s home was attacked with petrol bombs.
Persecution has been growing in the island nation throughout 2013 as Buddhist extremists attacked many churches and gatherings of Christians in the country.
Open Doors recently interviewed a persecuted Sri Lankan Christian who said, “The presence of Buddhist extremists in eastern and southern Sri Lanka usher in a new wave of attacks against believers this 2013. These include threats to pastors with growing ministries, harassment of congregations attending Sunday worship, destruction of church buildings, and shutdown of Christian ministries.”
Persecution has also come from officials. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) said in a November prayer update that on Oct. 1 a Christian woman in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, was forced to stop holding prayer meetings in her home after a mob of people, including several Buddhist monks, attacked and made threats.
“During the police inquiry on the incident, the authorities threatened her with arrest if she continued to hold prayer meetings in her home,” WEA wrote. “The woman was also forced to sign a document stating that she would discontinue the prayer meetings with immediate effect.”
On Sept. 3, Mission Network News said a Christian leader working with Asian Access in Sri Lanka confirmed the rise of Buddhist-led persecution and added, “My gut feeling is that it will continue and will intensify until the international community will bring pressure on the government.”
The United Nations has taken notice of the persecution against all religious minorities in Sri Lanka. UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay spoke out against attacks on Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. According to The Khaleej Times, Pillay said, “Regrettably, government interlocutors seemed to downplay this issue or even put the blame on minority communities themselves, and (we) heard disturbing accounts of state patronage or protection given to extremist groups.”