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Outspoken church leader in danger as Sri...

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Outspoken church leader in danger as Sri Lanka regime critics “disappear”

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Outspoken church leader in danger as Sri Lanka regime critics “disappear”

Country/Region: Sri Lanka, South and East Asia

A senior church leader in Sri Lanka is under threat for speaking out against the regime’s abuses as government critics suspiciously “disappear” and international pressure mounts.

Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, has been a leading figure in defending the rights of the Tamil people in the north and east of the country; they suffered grave abuses during the 26-year long civil war in which the government fought the Tamil Tigers, and are now marginalised and mistreated.

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Anyone who sides with the beleaguered Tamil people is viewed as an enemy. More than a dozen Christian ministers have “disappeared”, suspected to have been abducted and murdered by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, which ruthlessly “silences” dissenters.

After the war ended in 2009, the government appointed the “Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC), seen as a sham by critics to prevent international intervention and thereby avoid accountability for its own war crimes.

Bishop Joseph and two of his fellow clergy made a detailed submission to the LLRC in which they highlighted the disappearance of 146,679 people, who remain unaccounted for, during the last stages of the civil war.

He was also a signatory of a letter to the US State Department and another to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that call for international intervention in Sri Lanka. The second, submitted by 31 Christian clergy on 1 March 2012, describes the deteriorating human rights situation in the country and calls for an independent international body to investigate “war time abuses as well as pre-war and post-war concerns”.

The UNHRC has responded, passing a resolution on 22 March calling on Sri Lanka to investigate alleged war crimes properly. Intensifying international pressure on President Rajapaksa’s government increases the threat to the regime’s opponents, who have bravely brought the situation to the world’s attention.

“Break the bones” threat

On 23 March, the president’s Minister of Public Relations and Public Affairs, Mervyn Silva, said that he will “break the bones” of Sri Lankans who supported the UNHRC resolution. Many regime opponents have been killed. The owner/editor of the only newspaper in Sri Lanka to be critical of the government was assassinated in broad daylight while on his way to work.  

Open threats have been made against Bishop Joseph. One came from the party of the Buddhist monks, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which means “National Freedom Front”, who called for his arrest and prosecution.

On 8 May, he was questioned by the Sri Lankan CID about his submission to the LLRC in what is being seen as a signal to the Bishop to give up his campaign for the Tamil cause.  

Churches in Sri Lanka are also under pressure as the government tightens its control of all sectors of society. The regime is especially suspicious of Protestant groups; it is estimated that more than 40 per cent of Protestant Christians in Sri Lanka are ethnic Tamils.

Churches have received a circular saying that all new and existing places of worship will require prior approval from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, suggesting that the mandatory registration of churches is pending. Attacks on Christians are also on the rise.  

Barnabas Fund is helping Sri Lankan Christians whose lives were devastated by the civil war; we are building houses for those who are still without permanent homes, and churches to provide places of worship for Christians who are currently meeting in tents or under trees.

For more information, visit Housing persecuted Christians.

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  • Give thanks for the Christ-like responses of Christian leaders in CAR to the crisis that threatens them and their churches. They have distanced themselves from the anti-balaka militias, saying that these should not be labelled as Christian and that they hold no mandate from the churches. The leaders have also condemned the violence in the country, whatever its origin, and have called on Christians to pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Churches are hiding, defending and caring for thousands of Muslims endangered by the anti-balaka, and one of CAR’s most senior church leaders has invited the president of the country’s Islamic community to move into his church compound. Pray that this powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ will help to bring peace to the shattered country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 6 hours ago

  • On this Good Friday, give thanks to God for the death of Christ and for His gift of eternal life. Praise Him too for the example of those Christians who have persevered in their faith at the risk of their lives and who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Pray that their martyrdom will inspire their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ to endure whatever hardships befall them and will convince their persecutors of the truth and power of the Gospel. Pray too that their bereaved families and churches will not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Cry out to the Lord for Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been driven from their homes by the violence that has engulfed their country. Attacks by Islamist Séléka militants and retaliation from “anti-balaka” militias has generated a huge humanitarian crisis in which around two million people, many of them Christians, are in need of emergency assistance. Give thanks for the work of Barnabas partners who have been providing food rations to hundreds of displaced believers in the capital, Bangui, and distributing food, medicines, clothing and seeds to thousands in various regions. Pray that the aid will reach those who need it most, and that the Lord will comfort the relatives and friends of the thousands who have been killed in the fighting. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Apr 2014 00:00

  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

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