Sharp Increase of Persecution in Sri Lanka
From January 2013 to date, Sri Lanka saw 30 incidents of persecution against Christian churches. The perpetrators of such acts were not brought to justice, which encourages the culprits to continue carrying out such violent attacks without regard for the law. In a press release dated April 3, 2013, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) expressed its deep concern over the “prevalence… of an organized campaign of hatred against adherents of non?majority faiths.”
“There are two alarming factors about the current situation,” wrote NCEASL. “The first is that the violence seems to be organized and orchestrated by two organizations. Hence the violence has sustainability. Secondly, and most alarmingly both the extremist violent organizations seemingly have patronage and support from authorities and hence the impunity with which they operate.” NCEASL’s statement did not specify the two organizations, but one group had been drawing attention from mainstream media lately: Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), translated in English as Buddhist Power Force. Hard line and militant in its views and stance on religious issues, the BBS had been implicated in numerous attacks and threats primarily targeted against Christians and Muslims.
“There was an increase in attacks, hate speech, and biased media reports against minority religious groupsChristians and Muslimsby the BBS,” said Atty. Rebecca, who works on behalf of persecuted believers. “In the south of Sri Lanka alone, more than 10 churches have been forced to close down.” Sri Lanka was only a few points short of making the Open Doors’ 2013 World Watch List, which rank the 50 countries where practice of the Christian faith was most difficult. It may be a different story next year, if the trends persist and the Sri Lankan government continues to turn a blind eye at the plight of the religious minorities in the country.
Colombian Guerrillas Join Forces against Arauca Christians
The ELN (National Liberation Army) and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) are in talks about consolidating into a joint guerrilla force that will oppose the church in the Arauca region, Open Doors Colombia has learned. Jos, a former FARC fighter who came to Christ, has told Open Doors that area guerrilla leaders plan to close the churches. Josis now being discipled through the ministry’s ex-rebel training project. The Arauca regional Open Doors coordinator reported in March that the ELN held two village meetings, one in Ca Negro and another near Fortul. Among topics addressed at these meetings was the banning of Christian gatherings and evangelism in all villages. New church construction and church plants are likewise prohibited. The ELN allows churches to operate only in the cities. In addition, the ELN has imposed an 8 p.m. curfew. And all residents, regardless of their economic status, were ordered to contribute part of their earnings to the insurgency.
Salvador*, a former ELN fighter who also has become a Christian, told Open Doors that some churches have bowed to the guerrillas’ pressure and are paying guerrilla-imposed taxes, called “vaccines.” Pastors and church leaders, however, remain silent on the issue for fear of being accused by church infiltrators who monitor sermons for anti-revolutionary statements. The illegal armed groups are squeezing the church in a move designed to thwart guerrillas from converting to Christianity and then deserting the insurgency. Salvador said that these pastors are men and women whose lives are rooted in the Word of God. Some pastors have told him they would rather die than give their money to fund the guerrillas’ activities.
In March, guerrillas in one village held a community meeting to demand that citizens organize to better defend the territory and prevent the enemy (namely, Colombia’s army) from stopping the “revolutionary cause.” Illegal armed groups there forbid Christians from mobilizing en masse and holding village meetings of their own. Regional ELN commanders have told churches to organize themselves to support the rebels; those who refuse should leave the region. Churches that do not obey pro-guerrilla pastors will be closed, they warned. Arauca, an eastern Colombia department, is among the nation’s most volatile areas where Christians have suffered severe persecution. In January ELN guerrillas killed Christian widow Alicia Castilla, leaving as orphans Hern Ramos, his brother and his two sisters. The insurgents forced her children to leave the region under death threats.
For almost 10 years, Open Doors has developed a support network for the region’s persecuted church, providing training to its pastors and leaders and empowering them to preach the gospel in the face of persecution. Arauca pastors told Open Doors that they continue to maintain spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting as they wait on the Lord.
*Not real names
(For more information or to set up interviews, call Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email [email protected]).