Article 9 of Sri Lanka’s Constitution states: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana.”
The promise to establish a government that upholds the values of the Buddhist Sinhala majority was central to President Gotabaya’s party platform in the presidential and parliamentary elections. Following his party’s win in the parliamentary election, he has begun to take steps towards keeping that promise. The fear is that the president’s commitment to prioritising Buddhism, the government’s majority in parliament and the influence of far right Buddhist nationalist groups could result in the restriction of religious freedom for ethnic minorities and the rise of ethno-religious violence.
In the past 20 years, there have been over 900 documented violent incidents against Christians, including targeted killings of Christian clergy, physical violence and extensive destruction of places of worship and property. In 2004 the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a political party consisting solely of Buddhist monks, introduced a bill in parliament calling for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion. The intent was to prevent “unethical conversions” by evangelical Christian churches.