22 March 2021
PRESS RELEASE, Washington, DC.,
Following the recent report that the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious, and Cultural Affairs is currently drafting a legal framework for the implementation of anti-conversion laws, the multi-faith International Religious Freedom Roundtable sent out a letter, containing 36 signatures, on Monday March 22, calling on the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to abandon the planned introduction of the anti-conversion law.
The letter recognizes the value of each individual’s freedom to follow their conscience and denounces any conversions obtained by force and violence but notes that anti-conversion laws often go beyond this. They are frequently written in a way that is “overbroad and ambiguous” enabling accusations against religious groups, largely minorities, based on mere worship, sharing one’s faith, and performing charitable works; this emboldens intolerant groups to harass and persecute marginalized faith groups.
The letter cites international human rights law and UN experts on the topic who agree that anti-conversion laws often encourage false accusations and arrests of minority populations and emboldens violent actors.
The letter calls on the government of Sri Lanka to:
- Abandon the introduction of an anti-conversion law.
- Ensure that all religious minorities are able to practice their religion or belief freely and without discrimination.
- Promote tolerance between religions by upholding Articles 10 and 14 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, and Article 18 of the ICCPR, including the freedom to adopt or leave a religion or belief.
- Introduce religious freedom roundtables for religious leaders to discuss the issues affecting their communities in an open, free, cooperative and constructive manner.
Sri Lanka has tried to introduce an anti-conversion law in 2004, but it was rejected on constitutional grounds and after revisions was never introduced in Parliament.
In addition, the report of an anti-conversion law proposal comes at a time when Sri Lankan authorities are increasingly discriminating the Christian and Muslim religious populations.
Photo credit: Sri Lanka by Petr Sevcovic