The New Martyrs

Article excerpt

Byline: Roger Severino, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On Feb. 17, two men on a motorcycle gunned down Pastor Neil Edirisinghe and shot his wife in the stomach outside their home in Ampara, Sri Lanka, as their toddler son looked on. Although one would be tempted to think the incident was related to the bitter ethnic conflict ravaging the country, it was not.

Local newspapers report that a businessman, now in custody, had hired the gunmen to kill the 37-year old pastor because he had aided his estranged wife's conversion to Christianity. It appears that violence against Christians is back in fashion in this overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

As reported by the National Christian Evangelical Association of Sri Lanka and news outlets:

*On Feb. 14, in Weeraketiya, Hambanthota District, the home of a sick congregant was stoned while a local pastor, his wife and two children ministered to the ill parishioner.

*On Feb. 17, in Mathugama, Kaluthara District, a mob of about 50, some with anti-Christian posters and some armed with rods, gathered around a church during a Sunday service and verbally and physically assaulted members of the congregation as they exited the church.

*On March 2, in Lunuwila, Putlam District, a group of students were attacked and seriously beaten by a gang of more than 10 masked men as they walked to their Bible College. A local town official then threatened to close the school.

*On March 2 in Udugama, Galle District, a mob of about 200 gathered in front of the home of a local pastor and issued the following ultimatum: leave the village or face death.

*On March 3, in Mulaitivu District, a church came under an arson attack while the pastor of the church and his family were still inside.

In its latest International Report on Religious Freedom on Sri Lanka, the U.S. State Department cites reports of "more than 300 attacks" against Christians over the last four years with "several dozen confirmed by the U.S. Embassy."

While the government of Sri Lanka officially bemoans the violence, law enforcement and judicial officers on the ground routinely look the other way and perpetrators are rarely caught and prosecuted. The government has contributed to the climate of violence by openly courting the extremist Buddhist vote by proposing and campaigning for criminal anti-conversion laws.

Additionally, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court held that its constitution bars Christian social service organizations from incorporating because "the spreading of Christianity ... would impair the very existence of Buddhism"

Although the government isn't lighting the torches, its indifference to violence, regime of legalized discrimination, and political exploitation of religious tensions has undoubtedly fanned the flames. …