The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religion. The constitution and other laws give Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and commit the government to protecting it while respecting the rights of religious minorities. According to representatives of religious minority communities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government officials at the local level engaged in systematic discrimination against religious minorities, especially Muslims and converts to nondenominational Christian groups. Local government officials and police reportedly responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence against Muslim and Christian minorities. There were some reports of government officials being complicit in physical attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship. In June then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe publicly threatened to disbar and jail prominent human rights attorney Lakshan Dias for giving a media interview in which he stated that more than 190 documented attacks on evangelical Christians had occurred under the current government. Nondenominational Christian churches, often referred to as “evangelical” or “free groups,” continued to report physical attacks and harassment by police and local government officials who often sided with the religious majority in a given community. The government continued to enforce the ministerial circular issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs in 2008, which required registration of and permission for construction of new places of worship.
Attacks on religious minorities continued unabated from the previous year. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) documented 97 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services. The Sri Lankan Muslim Council (MCSL) reported dozens of violent attacks on mosques and Muslim prayer rooms during the year, especially during Ramadan. Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, Buddhist Power Force) continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media.
The U.S. Ambassador repeatedly urged political leaders to defend religious minorities and protect religious freedom for all, emphasizing the importance of religious minorities in the national reconciliation process. Embassy personnel held outreach events and met often with religious and civic leaders to foster interfaith dialogue. The U.S. government funded multiple foreign assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith and interreligious cooperation and confidence building.