SRI LANKA – Persecuted but not abandoned

Friends and relatives carry the coffin of one of the victims of the suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha.

Friends and relatives carry the coffin of one of the victims of the suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha.

On April 21, Easter Sunday, suicide bombers carried out a series of carefully-planned attacks on three Christian churches and three luxury hotels in different parts of Sri Lanka.

The government blamed two local Islamist groups – National Thowheeth Jama’ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. The explosions left more than 250 dead and 500 injured. Following the attacks, Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the deadly bombings, a first on Sri Lankan soil.

One of the churches targeted by bombers was Zion Evangelical Church in Batticaloa, a member of Release’s partner the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).

‘The scale of this horror takes our breath away’

According to NCEASL, 28 believers were killed by the attack on Zion Church, including 14 children.

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Ramesh Raju

The death toll would certainly have been much higher, were it not for the bravery of Ramesh Raju, a 42-year- old husband and father, who gave his life stopping a suicide bomber from entering the church that was packed with 600 people.

More than 100 worshippers were killed by coordinated bomb attacks at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade.

‘The scale of this horror takes our breath away,’ said Release’s CEO Paul Robinson. ‘All too often Easter has become the focus for violence against Christians.’

Sri Lanka is religiously diverse. According o the 2012 census, more than 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20.8 million is Buddhist. Hindus make up 13 per cent, and Muslims a little less than 10 per cent. Catholics are about 6 per cent. Evangelical Christians form 1 per cent of the population – and are particularly vulnerable to persecution.

The growth of evangelical Christianity in Sri Lanka since 1980 has met with violent opposition from Buddhist extremists. Persecution has intensified since 2012, coinciding with a rise in Buddhist nationalism.

Militants have burned churches and attacked Christians. Threats and intimidation are rife. In many cases, violent mobs have been led by Buddhist monks.

Buddhist extremists claim that Christians are unethically converting Buddhists in rural areas.

Christians say local government officials and police do little to prevent the attacks – and are sometimes complicit in them.

Our partner NCEASL has documented 88 incidents of religious liberty violations against Christians in 2018 – and more than 40 incidents so far this year.

However, this latest attack at Easter marks the disturbing new trend that Islamist militants have extended their campaign of terror to new fronts such as Sri Lanka.

‘With regard to the radical Islamist threat, with Islamic State (IS) losing its caliphate in Syria and Iraq and shifting its attention to South and South East Asia, it appears that it is now pursuing a global insurgency model,’ says the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.

‘This corroborates Sri Lankan intelligence reports indicating the existence of radical Islamist cells in the country comprising IS militants returning from Syria and Iraq. Moreover, investigations have also revealed that some of the Easter Sunday attackers were from affluent families and had studied overseas.’

Christians in Sri Lanka continue to be vulnerable, as radical Islamists have vowed to continue their attacks on Christian churches.

Help for victims

Thanks to your support, our partner NCEASL has been able to give immediate help to some of the critically-wounded, as well as the families of those killed.

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Asha, for example, a mother of two sons, has been devastated by the death of her youngest son, daughter- in-law and two grandchildren. She described her family as being ‘full of love and laughter’ and is struggling to comprehend what happened. Her whole family has been affected psychologically.

‘Everything is different now,’ she told our partner.

Kamal lost his wife – and his two daughters sustained injuries to their legs. He himself received treatment to remove 39 bomb fragments from his body. His family will need continuing medical help, trauma- counselling and livelihood support, said our partner.

Priya lost her eldest son, the breadwinner who took care of the family. He had worked outside Sri Lanka for several years and had only just returned home. The whole family has been in a state of shock. Priya will need continuing support to cover her living expenses.

Many others are grieving the loss of loved ones – and are struggling to cope with the dramatic change in their circumstances. There are extensive needs for both medical care and trauma-counselling.

‘We are responding to the emergency situation, looking at the immediate medical needs, looking at those who have been injured, seeing what can be done,’ said our partner NCEASL.

‘We are looking at how these families can be supported, their livelihood needs met, and also thinking about trauma-counselling, psychosocial support, and how to rebuild the communities, rebuild the families, restore the victims who have been attacked. Those are all very difficult things to do, but that is our hope.’

sri lanka map

Population: 20.8 million
Capital: Colombo
Government: Presidential republic
Religion: Buddhist 70%, Hindu 13%,
Muslim 10%, Christian 7%
(Evangelicals 1%)

Sources: NCEASL, Release International, World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission. Names have been changed.


Our partner asks supporters in the UK and Ireland to pray urgently for the victims of the terror attacks, and for their own ministry of compassion.

‘Please continue to pray for the victims. There are some families where the parents have passed away and only the children are left. There are some where the whole family has died. Pray for comfort and strength.

‘We also need to pray for the leadership of our country, to take appropriate action and to respond well in the situation.

‘We also need to pray for the people involved in this ministry: to make sure that God gives us strength and wisdom to do what is necessary, to act responsibly and to be who He wants us to be in the community.

‘Last but not least, pray for Sri Lanka as a country that we will be able to emerge out of this and come out stronger.’

You can hear a short interview with a representative of our Sri Lankan partner on our website

You can download and read more stories from our latest magazine here.

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