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By, A.R.M. Imtiyaz The anti conversion bill, introduced by the Buddhist Jathika Hele Urumaya (JHU) in 2004, was approved in January 2009, and thus Sri Lanka’s parliament is expected to vote on the bill either in February or March, depending on the impending re-occupation of the entire Northern region. Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court in 2004 rules that the bill does not contravene the Constitution and it is arguably inconsistent with international law concerning religious freedom. The legislation with the blessing of the government by the Buddhist-Sinhala fundamentalists in Sri Lanka has raised profound concerns among the minorities, especially among Christians, a small minority of the population. Anti-conversion legislation that alarms religious minorities states 7 years imprisonment and Sri Lankan rupees upto500, 000 ($ 4, 425) for conversion from one religion to another by using “force, fraud or allurement.” Briefly, any attempt to “persuade or influence a person to adopt another religion” would become a criminal offense and anyone convicted of offering “moral support [or] material assistance” leading to conversion could be imprisoned for up to seven years. (The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Part I: Section (I) —General Government Notifications, Ministry of Buddha Sasana. No. 1322/42004, January 5, 2004 at §2. (“No person shall proselytize or attempt to proselytize any other person nor shall any person aid or abet such proselytizing.”); §8(a) (1); §8(a) (2).). The opinions flows from the minority communities confidently fear that the law will extinguish freedom of religion, expression, and association for all Sri Lankans. At the core of religious freedom, arguably, is the guarantee that one may change one’s beliefs. It is obvious that anti-conversion legislation aims to strength Buddhism, which receives foremost place in Sri Lankan society as a matter of constitutional law.
Secular forces believe this legislation as another draconian step toward curtailing human rights and another step toward building a therocracy in Sri Lanka at the expenses of weakening the interests of the group and individual rights. Liberals affirm that the Anti Conversion Bill, which is in the pipeline to pass, would be a very bad and unrealistic piece of legislation that would suppress the individual and human rights and urge the government not be a party to endorse the whims and fancies of religious fanatics and extremists. It is a credible claim that the legislation will 'seriously erode' the freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed in the constitution and sanctioned by international conventions. It is a fact that Sri Lankan Sinhala-Buddhist ruling has a long history to contain religious minorities’ rights. Since Sri Lanka’s judiciary has often bowed to Sinhala-Buddhist pressure, as it strikingly did in the last day or so, written laws on the constitution to safeguard, will no way help to rescue minorities. In the first week of August 2003, the Sri Lanka Supreme Court, interpreting Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e) of the constitution, categorically ruled that although it was permissible under the constitution for a person to manifest, observe and practice ones religion, it does not guarantee a fundamental right to ‘propagate’ religion. The judgment was in response to a petition field by Anula Irangani Fernando against a Bill titled ‘Provincial of the Teaching Sisters of the Holy Cross of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Menzingen of Sri Lanka (Incorporation)’. The court concluded that clauses 3 (right to observe and practice a religion) and 5 (right to hold property) of the Bill are unconstitutional, because if a Christian organization owns property, that might induce others to convert, thus violating their freedom of religion. Clause 5 deals with the right of holding and receiving property both movable and immovable and or the power of disposing of such property. The court stated that this clause when combined with the objective of observance and practice of a religion or belief (clause 3), would necessarily result in imposing upon people who are defenseless, vulnerable or in need, improper pressure and inducement to adopt a religion or belief. This they stated would violate Article 10 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion or belief
The Supreme Court further ruled that as Buddhism is the State religion, it is unconstitutional for Christian organizations that propose to carry out proselytization of the Christian faith to be able to be incorporated under an Act of parliament. Article 9 of the constitution guarantees Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly, casts a duty upon the State to protect and foster Buddhism. The Supreme Court held that the purpose of the Ministry in question "the spread of knowledge of the Catholic religion and to impart religious, educational and vocational training to youth" (clause 3) is inconsistent with Article 9 of the constitution; and therefore denied the right of incorporation. The object of clause 3 was seen as a threat to the very existence of Buddhism. Conversion is equally the right of the person who is sought to be converted, as such it is of no consequence to her if it is not a part of the freedom of propagation of the religious group to which conversion is made, provided she/he is not subjected to force/fraud and inducement. On examining the legislation and the Supreme Court judgment in light of the international instruments mentioned earlier, the Bill and the judgment seem to be encroaching upon the right to freedom of religion enshrined in those documents. There is a clear guaranteeing of the right to practice, teach and adopt any religion of one's choice and it cannot be denied that the proposed legislation, in effect, seeks to curtail the same right. Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-Buddhist dominated security forces and their paramilitaries are on the verge of re-occupying the Tamil dominated Northern island of Sri Lanka. Strong pro-Sinhala agenda has been conceived at the elite level to deTamilize the North, in order Sinhalanize the region with a careful political agenda of the defense colonization agendas. When that happens with the silent approval minority quisling leaders, it is very likely that the Sinhala extremists would go for the religious minorities. The Sinhala extremists would begin the institutionalized racism with the anti-conversion legislation. In actual fact, anti-conversion legislation is an abridgment of fundamental political freedoms. The Sinhala
extremists care neither for the sentiments of the religious communities, nor genuine religious piety. It is credible to believe that the successful enactment of the anti-conversion law could lead to consequences similar to those of the “Sinhala-only” policy, which was engineered by former Prime Minister S.W. R. D Bandaranayake in 1956 to woo the Sinhala sympathy. The writer, Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz, is a political scientist from Sri Lanka, currently attached to the Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA. _________________________________ Note: In November 2002, Mr. Maheshwaran, former Hindu Cultural Affairs Minister, who was brutally assassinated allegedly by a group attached to the ruling Sinhala class, made a visit to Tamil Nadu, one of five states in India with anti-conversion laws. On his return to Sri Lanka, Maheshwaran made a public statement vowing to introduce a bill in parliament to curb religious conversions. In subsequent months, Maheshwaran repeated his intentions to introduce the bill to parliament. A draft bill closely modeled on the Tamil Nadu anti-conversion law was prepared, leading to increased attacks on Christian churches in the following months. According to Don Asoka Wijewardena, (“Anti-conversion laws within 60 days” Sunday Observer at 3, 18 January 2004) the proposed anti-conversion laws were drafted by a special multi-religious committee appointed by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe in agreement with the former President Chandrika Banaranaike Kumaratunga. Prior to the dissolution of the Sri Lankan parliament in February 2004, Minister of Justice, Legal Reforms, National Integration and Buddha Sasana, W.J.M. Lokubandara stated that the act would come into effect within the next 60 days.). The JHU monks July 21, 2004 submitted a bill in Parliament seeking to outlaw religious conversions based on offers of cash or other incentives. - A.R.M. Imtiyaz
Posted by transCurrents on February 21, 2009 08:33 PM | Permalink
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