By ACNS staff
Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs has announced the establishment of a special police unit to address religious disputes in the country.
State media revealed on Monday that the Religious Disputes Unit would operate similar to the tourism and environmental police units, with police officers having training on multi-ethnic and multi-religious rights.
The move is said to be a response to a rise in incidents of religious intolerance by extremist Buddhist monk groups against religious minorities. Both Christians and Muslims have come under verbal and physical attack.
Media reports said that, on the subject of the new police unit, Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa said he would not allow any individual or organisation to take the law into their hands and create religious discord in the country.
Faith groups gave a lukewarm reception to this latest move against the persecution that has continued for many years.
A spokesperson from the Anglican Church of Ceylon said, “While the effectiveness of this special police force in curbing acts of provocation, intimidation and violence specially against minority religious groups will need to be seen in the coming days, the existing law enforcing agencies in fact have adequate powers and the capability to act impartially, if they are given a free hand.”
This sentiment was echoed by Minister of Justice and Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Rauff Hakeem.
Christians in Sri Lanka can face significant persecution. In February, the Barnabus Fund reported that a pastor in Kandy district and his wife were dragged from their home and assaulted by a mob led by Buddhist monks who demanded that the couple stop holding worship services.
The 250-strong mob, led by eleven monks from the extreme nationalist organisation Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Strength Force (BBS), stormed the couple’s home. A senior BBS leader warned villagers against such “traitors” and threatened the same treatment for others who supported Christian worship.
Only a month before this incident more than 5,000 Christians had gathered in Colombo for a united service of intercessory prayer for the nation following recent attacks on Christian places of worship by Buddhist extremists. The event was organised by the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka and the National Christian Evangelical Alliance and held in the premises of the Anglican Cathedral in Colombo.