REX/Haydn West

Sri Lankan lawyer threatened after commenting on religious intolerance

Wed 28 Jun 2017
By Eno Adeogun

A Sri Lankan human rights lawyer has been criticised by government officials and threatened with being disbarred from his profession after commenting on religious intolerance against Christians.

Lakshan Dias shared data from the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which estimates that Christians were subject to 195 incidents of discrimination, intimidation and violence between 2015 and June 2017, while appearing as a guest on a television show.

During a news programme a few days later, the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena referred to the talk show without naming Dias and dismissed his claims as false referencing the Archbishop of Colombo's Cardinal Malcom Rajinth, who reportedly said that he was unaware of the incidents Dias mentioned.

The Buddhist majority country's minister for Justice and Buddha Sasana (Religious Affairs), Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, threatened to bar Dias from the legal profession unless he retracted his comments and apologised within 24 hours. The Bar Council of Sri Lanka has reportedly advised Dias to produce an affidavit to support his claims.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "It is deeply worrying that the government has chosen to condemn and threaten Mr Dias rather than engage with the problem of religious intolerance in Sri Lanka and the NCEASL's research.

NCEASL has been monitoring and documenting incidents of discrimination, intimidation and violence against Sri Lanka's Christian community for over two decades.

According to the 2011 census, only 7.2 per cent of Sri Lanka's population are Christians, while 70.2 per cent are Buddhists, 12.6 per cent are Hindus and 9.7 per cent are Muslims.

Religious intolerance in Sri Lanka has rising since early 2000 and in particular since the end of the civil war in 2009, when Buddhist fundamentalist groups such as the Bodu Bela Sena began a campaign of hate speech against religious minorities.

Condemning the lack of religious tolerance in the country Thomas added: "We call on the government of Sri Lanka to uphold his right freedom of expression and to withdraw the threats against him.

"It must also confront the problem of religious intolerance in the country and ensure that all citizens have their rights to freedom of religions or belief upheld, regardless of their religious affiliation."

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