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 Post subject: Sri Lanka Attempts to Ease Fears Over Anti-Conversion Bill
 Post Posted: Mon Apr 25, 2005 2:01 am 
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Sri Lanka Attempts to Ease Fears Over Anti-Conversion Bill


Tuesday, April 19 , 2005, 9:05 (UK)

Christian organisations all over the world have been combining their efforts in an attempt to ensure that a restrictive new anti-conversion law in Sri Lanka does not pass through the nation’s parliament. However, in a new statement the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US has defended the bill and tried to ease fears.

The proposed law contains rules to prevent people from changing their religion, and was formed by Sri Lanka's Minister of Buddhist Affairs, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, with the support of the JHU - party of nationalist Buddhist monks.

If this law passes, it will forbid anyone to "unethically convert or attempt to unethically convert any other person espousing one religion ... to another religion, religious belief, religious persuasion or faith which such a person does not hold or belong to".

Penalties for breaking the law have been set up to a fine of around 100,000 rupees (£500) or a five year prison term.

Even though there will be a free vote on the Bill, as observers expressed; however, most of the MPs are expected to approve it, since there is very little chance for a secret ballot.

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) previously has hosted a special meeting at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva, and spoke out against "religious persecution in Sri Lanka".

"Laws dealing with religious freedom are meant to protect minority religious groups, but this law is trying to protect the Buddhist majority," said Godfrey Yogarajah, Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka and one of the speakers at the 5th April meeting.

In a document on international religious freedom presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the WEA said that the Anti-Conversion Bill – presented by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Party to Sri Lanka’s parliament in July 2004 – had as its stated aim, to promote Buddhism within Sri Lanka. The constitutionality of the bill was challenged last year in Sri Lanka's Supreme Court, which found two sections of the proposed legislation to be unconstitutional. If enacted, the legislation would have contradicted the freedom of religion guarantee in Article 10 of the Constitution.

In addition, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy called for "round-table" talks with Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US, Bernard A.B. Goonetilleke in Washington on April 12th. The main topic of discussion was the anti-conversion bill

They discussed whether there were sections in the anti-conversion bill that would result in Sri Lanka breaking its international human rights and freedoms obligations, and in addition it was a concern that the bill could affect the foreign assistance given to the country. Noting that a bulk of the tsunami aid into the country has come from faith-based organisations, it was mentioned that the new law, if passed, could severely restrict the potential aid available from church groups.

Another worry shown was that they worried that the tension caused by the proposals had led to a series of attacks against local churches over recent times, and it was feared that these could increase.

Ambassador Goontilleke said that there were no connections between the anti-conversion proposals and the increase of faith based social service NGO’s following the December tsunami. He commented that the work done for Sri Lanka was deeply appreciated by all Sri Lankans and that there were no reasons to believe that the work of these faith-based groups taking part in redevelopment would be affected by the proposed bill.


Daniel Blake
daniel@christiantoday.com


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 Post subject: Sri Lanka Evangelicals Continue Fight Against Anti-Conversio
 Post Posted: Thu May 05, 2005 8:40 pm 
Sri Lanka Evangelicals Continue Fight Against Anti-Conversion Bills

Thursday, May 5 , 2005, 13:45 (UK)
@christiantoday.com


A petition against the proposed anti-conversion bills in Sri Lanka have been brought to the spot-light as the second reading by the country's parliament is scheduled to take place on Friday 6th May. The UK-based human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has issued a statement today, reaffirming the strong opposition of evangelicals to the bills.

CSW describes the two bills currently before the Sri Lanka parliament that they would "severely limit evangelism and conversion to the Christian faith."

The bill that is due to go to a second reading in the parliament tomorrow was proposed by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a Buddhist nationalist party of monks.

According to CSW, the JHU bill, known as the "Prohibition of Forcible Conversions of Religions Bill", if enacted, would require individuals who convert from one religion to another to inform the local authorities within a prescribed period. Those who fail to notify the authorities can be imprisoned for up to five years or fined up to 150,000 Rupees (£1,800).

The law adds that "No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person aid or abet any such conversions." Up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 150,000 Rupees can result for those who breach this law.

Moreover, the law claimed to provide protection for the vulnerable such as women, physically or mentally disabled persons, prisoners, students, refugees or hospital patients from being converted by "fraudulent means". The penalty for those who attempt to do so is seven years imprisonment and 500,000 Rupees (£5,900) fine.

CSW is also greatly concerned by the second bill proposed by the Government, called the "Act for Religious Freedom". It stipulates that no person should "unethically convert or attempt to unethically convert any other person espousing one religion…to another religion, religious belief, religious persuasion or faith which such person does not hold or belong to." This bill has been postponed while the JHU bill is tested before Parliament.

Approximately 70 percent of the population in Sri Lanka are Buddhist, with only 8 percent being Christian. Christian churches have faced occasional resistance by extreme Buddhists, in particular evangelical Christian denominations are hindered in their activities. Extreme Buddhists have accused evangelicals of unethical and insensitive conduct regarding their mission works. Also due to their strong influence over the politics in the country, many criticisms have been made that they are now introducing laws with the aim to restrict the Christian movement.

Major Christian groups, including the Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Christian Council and the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), are all trying their best to raise international awareness towards the alleged breach of religious freedom by the Sri Lankan parliament.

NCEASL expressed "deep concern and regret" at the latest developments. It reiterates their strong condemnation of any unscrupulous or unethical practices. CSW, in partnership with the NCEASL, has been lobbying hard to prevent either bill from becoming law.

The NCEASL commented in a statement that the bills would "enforce limitations on religious freedom, legitimise violence and harassment of minority religious groups and further de-fragment our already divided society."

The NCEASL also believes that "the tarnishing of our nation’s image as a human rights violator will cause irreparable damage to our economy - a luxury that we can ill afford at this time of national crisis."

Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said, "We are deeply concerned that the Government’s anti-conversion bill is again before Parliament. This bill, if passed, would profoundly violate religious freedom in Sri Lanka."

"We oppose unethical conversions and are sensitive to the concerns of Buddhists in Sri Lanka. We have listened to their views, but we would encourage the Government to work with the churches and the other religious groupings to explore non-legislative options as a way forward. We urge Sri Lankan Parliamentarians to vote against this bill, and we will continue to campaign to that effect."

Eunice K. Y. Or
eunice@christiantoday.com


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 Post subject: USCIRF Expresses Concern Over Sri Lanka's Forced Conversion
 Post Posted: Sun Jul 17, 2005 6:31 pm 
USCIRF Expresses Concern Over Sri Lanka's Forced Conversion Bill

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern Wednesday about a proposed pending legislation in Sri Lanka that addresses forced religious conversions

Friday, Jul. 15, 2005 Posted: 12:30:35PM EST

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern Wednesday about a proposed pending legislation in Sri Lanka and the climate of inter-religious conflict and intolerance emerging in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

The parliamentary bill addressing forced religious conversions reemerged this year in the wake of December’s tsunami that devastated parts of South Asia and as religious tensions escalated following unspecified and unconfirmed reports relating to alleged methods of distributing aid.

If enacted, the bill would fall short of international standards with regard to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.

“The Commission expresses concern about the proposed pending legislation and the climate of inter-religious conflict and intolerance emerging in Sri Lanka,” USCIRF said in a statement released on July 13. It urged all parties to work together to restore a climate of religious respect, tolerance, and freedom in Sri Lanka.

“The Commission further urges the Sri Lankan government to refrain from passing laws that are inconsistent with international standards,” USCIRF continued. “The Commission also reiterates the importance of promoting freedom of religion for all.”

Citing comments made in a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, USCIRF said the provisions of the draft legislation on conversions "could result in the persecution of religious minorities rather than the protection and promotion of religious tolerance."

In preliminary findings based on her visit to and investigation in Sri Lanka, Jahangir addressed "allegations that faith based organizations that have brought humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka for the victims of Tsunami, have adopted certain methods of exploiting the vulnerability of the population."

Although Jahangir was not "able to confirm these allegations by precise and individual cases," she concluded that "a sufficient number of allegations are confirmed by a number of sources."

Noting that these cases "raise anxiety," she pointed out these are "regrettable practices but do not constitute a criminal offence or a clear violation – as long as such conversions are not carried out by force, pressure, or other coercive methods."

In its statement, USCIRF noted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) upholds the right to have or to adopt a religion or belief and to manifest that belief publicly. This right includes an individual's ability "to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief." However, in disputes involving conversion activities, the USCIRF said the rights and interests of the source (the person attempting to convert another), the target (of the persuasion), and the state can sometimes conflict.

"Though we recognize that there are various and competing rights at stake in such matters, this proposed legislation appears to be in violation of international law," said Michael Cromartie, USCIRF’s newly-elected Chair. "The approval of this law would therefore signal that the government of Sri Lanka is moving in the wrong direction with regard to the protection of religious freedom as outlined in Article 18 of the ICCPR."

The USCIRF said that, if passed, the bill against religious conversions would:

• provide for prison terms of up to five years for anyone who attempts to convert a person from one religion to another by "the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means," with the terms "fraud" and "allurement" vaguely defined such that many charitable activities could be included;

• establish reporting requirements for any person who adopts a new religion as well as for any person who takes part "directly or indirectly" in the conversion of another person, requiring individuals to inform government authorities of their action or face the threat of jail time and fines upon conviction; and

• provide an opportunity for "any interested person" having "reason to believe" a violation of the act to bring cases in the public interest, thereby inviting the kind of abuse seen with the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

“The proposed legislation also appears to violate the standards of protection for religious freedom found in Sri Lanka's own constitution,” the Commission added, ‘which guarantees the right of every person in Sri Lanka to "freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.’”

Several provisions of identical legislation introduced last year were found to be unconstitutional by Sri Lanka's Supreme Court. Moreover, the Supreme Court also determined that "two forms of wrongful conduct [outlined in the bill], namely the use of force and the adoption of fraudulent means, are already found in the penal code for different offences."

USCIRF stated that if the current draft bill were to go forward without the constitutionally offending provisions and become law, the legislation could still potentially be used to criminalize manifestations of religion or belief that are protected under international human rights treaties to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. The Sri Lankan government has not opposed the draft legislation, and there are reports that it has prepared its own bill addressing forced religious conversions.

"Despite years of civil war, Sri Lanka by many standards is a functioning democracy, which is a commendable achievement," noted Commissioner and former USCIRF Chair Preeta D. Bansal. "Yet, the renewal of violence against religious minorities, [and the] reintroduction of this legislation on conversions represent a setback.”

Bansal stated that the U.S. government should urge the government of Sri Lanka to

(1) make a greater effort to hold the perpetrators of violent attacks on members of religious minorities accountable for their actions;
(2) oppose the pending draft legislation proposed by the JHU which would violate international legal standards; and
(3) in order to foster and restore inter-religious harmony, urge the creation of an inter-religious or governmental body to investigate allegations of unethical conversion activity, and report publicly on its findings."

Meanwhile, Cromartie urged all the parties involved to “work together to restore a climate of religious tolerance in Sri Lanka,” hoping that the Sri Lankan government “will pass laws that are consistent with international standards."


kenneth@christianpost.com

Copyright © 2005 The Christian Post.


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