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Sri Lanka: Christian Pastor Criminally Charged for Sermon Comments

According to tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle brought Christianity to Sri Lanka. The growing Evangelical Protestant community is subject to increasingly harassment and discrimination from Hindus and Buddhists.

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the threats to religious freedom worldwide, see here.

“Pastor in Sri Lanka Criminally Charged for Sermon Comments,” Morning Star News, January 3, 2024:

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – A pastor in Sri Lanka was granted bail on Wednesday (Jan. 3) after being jailed since Dec. 1 on a charge of “outraging religious feelings” for comments in a sermon that appeared online, sources said.

Authorities arrested Pastor Jerome Fernando, senior overseer of The Glorious Church in Colombo, after a court had ordered officials to abstain from arresting him. He was reportedly released on a cash bail of 500,000 rupees (US$1,540) and two personal bails of 10 million rupees (US$30,810) each and banned from leaving the country.

A Christian leader in Sri Lanka said many churches issued statements standing in solidarity with Pastor Fernando and demanding his release.

“We stand in solidarity, because today it is he, tomorrow it could be us as well,” the leader said on condition of anonymity.

He asserted that authorities and religious leaders are gradually turning attitudes of Sri Lankans against the Christian community.

“Things are happening slowly, and we don’t know what is going to happen in the long run,” he said. “The unfortunate part is that the church is not ready for such an assault.”

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) on Dec. 2 expressed grave concern over increasing intolerance and violations of freedom of expression in a press statement on the pastor’s arrest.

In the charges against Pastor Fernando, Sri Lanka authorities had stated that his actions violated Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights Act, which is based on an ICCPR agreement that is designed to protect rights rather than be used to restrict them.

Authorities arrested the pastor based in part on Section 3(1) of Sri Lanka’s ICCPR Act 56 of 2007, which states, “No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

The NCEASL statement said officials had used Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act without thoroughly assessing if “expressions truly incite violence or discrimination.”

“The ICCPR Act has often been invoked to protect religions or beliefs against criticism or perceived insult, rather than prioritizing the protection of human rights and shielding vulnerable groups from incitement to violence,” the group stated.

The NCEASL appealed to authorities to withdraw charges against Pastor Fernando and urged them to promote an amicable environment where individuals have the freedom of expression befitting a democracy.

Pastor Fernando was charged with “outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons” under Section 291B of Penal Code and under Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act 56 of 2007….

In his petition, he also apologized to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic clergy and all whose religious feelings may have been hurt, and later his parents on Aug. 18 apologized for his remarks….

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