05/06/2014, 00.00
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Sri Lanka Christians criticise the creation of a "religious police"

by Melani Manel Perera
The government set up a special unit to investigate and solve religious disputes. For some leading Catholics and Anglicans, the move is "an attempt to give official protection" to radical Sinhalese Buddhist groups that attack the country's minorities.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The government of Sri Lanka has set up a "religious police" in response to the increasing religious intolerance against minorities ​​by some Buddhist extremist groups. President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week announced it. The unit's agents will answer to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Buddha Sasana. However, representatives of Sri Lanka's Christian clergy told AsiaNews that the government's decision to set up a new police unit to investigate and solve religious disputes is "useless" and "misleading".

In the past year, Sri Lanka's Muslim and Christian communities have been targeted by some radical organisations, like the Bodu Bala Sena and the Sinhala Ravaya, who act as self-styled vigilante groups for the country's Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Fr Emmanuel Sebamalai, a Tamil Catholic priest and human rights activist in the north of the country, said, "The special unit will not solve the crisis we are experiencing. Its creation proves that there is a problem between Buddhism and other religions. However, the government supports Buddhists and helps their radical elements when they attack minorities with impunity."

Rev Marimuttu Sathivel, an Anglican pastor who works for human rights in the capital Colombo, agrees. In fact, "the big question is what law can allow the creation of such a unit." For him, it "is an attempt to give official protection to groups like the BBS."

For Fr Oswald B Firth, OMI, a former national director of Caritas Sri Lanka who now lives in Australia, the religious police "is the height of irony for the simple reason that religious intolerance (ostensibly the government's reason for the force) is practiced by Bodu Bala Sena, which operates under the protection of the Ministry of Defence."

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