SRI LANKA: Civil Society Joint Statement in support of Lakshan Dias to continue his work on raising awareness on the attacks on minority religions

Civil Society Joint Statement in Support of Lakshan Dias forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

We are appalled by the recent threats made by the Justice Minister, Mr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, to remove Mr. LakshanDias from practising as a lawyer over comments made regarding the attacks on Christian places of worship in the country. We condemn these threats as it marks an undue use of one’s political authority and privilege to intimidate or condemn in public a human rights activist and a legal practitioner without any verification of the facts.

On 14th June 2017, Mr Dias, appearing on the talk show “Aluth Parlimenthiswa” on Derana TV stated that there were 195 incidents of attacks and other forms of harassment against Christian places of worship in the country since the beginning of 2015. The statistics presented by Mr. Dias were based on the documentation maintained by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which also includes police complaint and case numbers on many of the incidents. Moreover, research reports compiled by VeriteResearch based on the documentation of the NCEASL titled, “Silent Suppression: Restrictions on Religious Freedoms of Christians (1994-2014) – A twenty year trend analysis” and “Judicial Responses to Religious Freedom: A Case Analysis – Judicial responses towards the fundamental rights of the Christian community in Sri Lanka during 2005-2014” further highlight the systematic religious liberty violations committed against the evangelical Christian community in Sri Lanka.

On 16th June 2017, ITN news broadcasted a speech of the President in which he referred to comments made by Mr.Dias, stating that he had called Cardinal Malcolm Ranjithimmediately to verify Mr. Dias’ claims and that he was told that there were no such incidents in the country.

Previously, the NCEASL has communicated to the President through a letter dated 30th September 2016 its desire to represent the interests of the evangelical Christian community, a minority religious group in the country, at the Inter-Religious Council of Sri Lanka. However, the NCEASL did not receive a response to this request. Moreover, in the past, the NCEASL has also met with officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and apprised them of the grievances faced by the evangelical Christian community. Still more, the NCEASL also has also shared its incident reports and documentation with other agencies closely working with the government including the South Asia Policy and Research Institute.

Following this, on 17th June 2017, ITN news once again broadcasted a news item of Minister Mr. WijeyadasaRajapakse reiterating the President’s claim and threatening to take necessary legal steps to remove Mr. Dias from his practices at the Supreme Court as an Attorney-at-law unless he apologizes to the nation within 24 hours.

Mr. Lakshan Dias’s assertions were based on credible and carefully documented information compiled by the NCEASL. In this light, it is surprising that both the President and the Justice Minister who claim to have seen and heard the assertions of Mr. Dias do not acknowledge this fact or make the distinction between Christian churches and Catholic Churches, but are quick to single out Mr. Lakshan Dias. Therefore, we, as the civil society view this as the targeted singling out of an activist with the aim of silencing him.

Moreover, we are also of the view that the Justice Minister’s actions–a lawyer himself–to publicly portray another activist lawyer as a liar, as utterly unprofessional and as posing a serious threat to both Mr. Lakshan Dias’s legal career as well as his personal security.

Mr. Lakshan Dias, a renowned lawyer, and a committed human rights defender has been engaged in civil society activism for over two decades. He is a member of the Bar Association and many local and regional human rights groups. He has appeared for many fundamental rights violation cases on a pro-bono basis on behalf of marginalized and underprivileged people. In the last five years, he has also appeared in many cases representing the victims of increasing religious hate crimes against the evangelical and Muslims communities in the country.

Mr. Dias’s statistics came from the NCEASL that has been systematically recording attacks on Christians for the past three decades. The NCEASL is prepared to meet with the President with evidence to prove Mr. Dias’s claims. We also take this opportunity to point out to both the President and the Justice Minister the distinction of the reference to attacks on Christian Churches as opposed to Catholic churches, as the duo had surmised. It is also worth to note that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is no longer the President of the Bishop’s Conference and is only the Archbishop of Colombo and therefore does not represent the opinion of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.

Our Demands:

1. Immediate action from the Minister of Justice to make public that Mr. Lakshan Dias Attorney At Law quoted what he stated based on a report published by National Evangelical Alliance Sri Lanka and that it was not Mr.Lakshan Dias’s own statistics.

2. Ensure security for Mr. Dias and his family and uphold the right of Mr. Dias for his freedom of expression as a Lawyer and the right of Religious Minorities guaranteed by article 10 of the Sri Lankan Constitution.

Issued by:

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance Sri Lanka


The views shared in this statement do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.