Sri Lanka – LKA39361 – Inter-faith Marriage – Apostasy – Muslims

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Sri Lanka – LKA39361 – Inter-faith Marriage – Apostasy – Muslims
Country Advice
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka – LKA39361 – Inter-faith
Marriage – Apostasy – Muslims – State
Protection
10 October 2011
1. Is inter-faith marriage accepted in Sri Lanka?
The US Department of State reports that religious discrimination in Sri Lanka is much less
common than ethnic discrimination. Various religious groups are generally tolerant of each
other‟s religious beliefs.1
Nevertheless, a number of sources indicate that inter-faith marriages in Sri Lanka are not
readily accepted by the family members of the couple, or by the wider society.2 A 2003 paper
stated that “[m]ixed marriages have not been accepted easily in Sri Lanka by some sectors of
the population”. Although mixed marriages involving various ethnicities, religions, and castes
have existed in Sri Lanka for many years, they constitute a minority and, in some cases, the
couple can be subject to social isolation.3
Similarly, the 1997-2001 edition of The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality states that
inter-caste and inter-ethnic marriages, while legally sanctioned, are socially unacceptable. The
partners involved in a mixed marriage may be ostracised by their families. Such unions are
most likely to occur among the Westernised elite, where cultural, ethnic and religious
identities are not as strong. Inter-caste and inter-ethnic marriages are reportedly extremely
rare and constitute less than 1 per cent of all Sri Lankan marriages.4
Catholic Tamil parents in Sri Lanka have reported concerns about the potential loss of
traditional customs, language and culture when their children married people of different
faiths or nationalities. Difficulties may arise as marriages in Sri Lanka traditionally unite the
families of both partners.5 A Sri Lankan counsellor also highlights the difficulties that
extended families can pose in a mixed marriage, stating that religious differences create the
most emotional upheaval, particularly when the couple is pressured to determine the faith of
their children.6
1
US Department of State 2011, International Religious Freedom Report for 2010 (July-December) – Sri Lanka, 13
September, Section III
2
Tagore-Erwin, M. (undated), „Mixed Marriages Part III‟, Vivaaha website, source: Hinduism Today
http://www.vivaaha.org/newpage12.htm – Accessed 5 October 2011
3
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada 2003, LKA41788.E – Sri Lanka: Societal treatment of interracial
couples in Colombo, particularly between Tamils and the Sinhalese, 6 August
4
De Munck, V. C. and Weerakoon, P. 1997-2001, „Sri Lanka‟, in Francoeur, R. T., The International Encyclopedia
of Sexuality: Volume I – IV 1997-2001, The Continuum Publishing Company, New York, Humboldt University
Berlin website http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/srilanka.html – Accessed 5 October 2011
5
„Parents worry loss of identity through mixed marriages‟ 2010, UCA News, 30 December
http://www.ucanews.com/2010/12/30/parents-worry-loss-of-identity-through-mixed-marriages/ – Accessed 5
October 2011
6
„Mixed and matched‟ 2002, The Sunday Times Mirror Magazine, 3 March
http://sundaytimes.lk/020303/mirror4.html – Accessed 5 October 2011
Page 1 of 6
A number of sources indicate that inter-faith marriages are rare in Sri Lanka. The Socialist
Review reported in July 2009 that “out of a population of over twenty million people, less
than one hundred inter-faith marriages have been recorded every year over the last few
decades”.7 A recent field study on the situation for religious minorities in Sri Lanka,
conducted by the executive director of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, noted a decline in interfaith marriages since the end of the civil conflict in 2009.8 UCA News reported in December
2010 that although inter-faith marriages are not prevented by the Catholic Church in Sri
Lanka, only five or six such marriages have been reported in the large parishes. However, one
Catholic priest in Jaffna notes that this number is reportedly increasing.9
A February 2011 article in UCA News similarly reported that inter-faith marriages are
increasing in Kandy, due in part to declining numbers of Catholics in the area. According to
the report, 209 inter-faith marriages were recorded in the Kandy diocese in 2010, compared
with 150 in 2009. Acceptance of inter-faith partnerships is also reportedly becoming more
common. As a result of the rising trend, Buddhist leaders in the area are undertaking training
in Catholic practices and mixed marriage issues in order to assist priests in their church
duties.10 Furthermore, in a July 2009 article in the South Asia Intelligence Review, the author
states that mixed marriages between Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are common in Sri
Lankan society.11
2. Is there any country information that Sri Lankans who leave the Islamic faith are at
risk of harm?
Very little information was located on the likely treatment of Sri Lankans who leave the
Islamic faith. Anti-conversion legislation which sought to criminalise „unethical‟ conversions
was introduced in 2004 as a result of ongoing allegations by Buddhist extremists of forced
conversions to Christianity. However, no action has been taken by parliament regarding the
proposed law.12
A 17 year old Sri Lankan Muslim who converted to Christianity whilst living unlawfully in
the United States (US), Rifqa Bary, has claimed that she will be harmed by her family for
leaving Islam. Although her immediate family resides in the US, some commentators have
indicated that Bary would also be at risk of harm if she is returned to Sri Lanka. Another Sri
Lankan apostate in the US reportedly stated that Bary “will die in her society. Society won‟t
leave her alone. Even if the family, Mother and Father has a little sympathy, but not society,
society is worse because she has gone too far. The society will never leave the family in
7
„Sri Lank: Defeat sows seeds of future conflict‟ 2009, Socialist Review, International Socialist Organisation of
Aotearoa/New Zealand website, Issue 29, 19 July http://www.iso.org.nz/socialist-review/archive/64-socialist-reviewissue-29/461-sri-lank-defeat-sows-seeds-of-future-conflict.html – Accessed 4 October 2011
8
McKenna, C. 2011, „Working with the Asia Foundation in Sri Lanka‟, Canadian Lawyers Abroad‟s Blog website,
23 August http://canadianlawyersabroad.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/working-with-the-asia-foundation-in-sri-lanka/
– Accessed 4 October 2011
9
„Parents worry loss of identity through mixed marriages‟ 2010, UCA News, 30 December
http://www.ucanews.com/2010/12/30/parents-worry-loss-of-identity-through-mixed-marriages/ – Accessed 5
October 2011
10
„Lay trainees ease mixed marriage blues‟ 2011, UCA News, 23 February http://www.ucanews.com/2011/02/23/laytrainees-ease-mixed-marriage-blues/ – Accessed 5 October 2011
11
Singh, A. K. 2009, „Sri Lanka: Tainted Dawn‟, South Asia Intelligence Review, 13 July http:
//satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/sair8/8_1.htm – Accessed 22 July 2009
12
US Department of State 2011, International Religious Freedom Report for 2010 (July-December) – Sri Lanka, 13
September, Introduction, Section II
Page 2 of 6
peace. They have to take a stand for this, because it is the shame. Rifqa has brought a shame
for their religion and for their society”.13
Bary fled her home in Ohio in 2009 and was placed into foster care while her custody case
was being heard in court.14 One article states that her legal team should have applied for
protection in the US on her behalf, on the grounds that she will face harm upon return to Sri
Lanka. The author claims that Bary‟s lawyer “admits that Rifqa „won‟t make it‟ if she is sent
back to Sri Lanka, as she could be easily killed there because of her apostasy”.15 Bary attained
permanent residency in the US in September 2010 after claiming that she was unable to
reunite with her parents.16 17
3. Is there adequate state protection in Sri Lanka for persons who are threatened by nonstate actors for religious reasons?
Buddhism is the majority religion in Sri Lanka, and is accorded the “foremost place” in the
constitution. The government is committed by the constitution to protect Buddhism, although
it is not recognised as the state religion.18 Muslims, who comprise 7 per cent of the
population,19 are not prevented from practising their religion. However, concerns have been
raised about the involvement of the state “in the promotion and encroachment of Sinhala
Buddhist culture and influence in minority areas”. Minority Rights Group International
(MRG) argues that by undertaking such activities, the government fails to protect the rights of
minority religions.20
Religious minorities have voiced complaints over the lack of protection afforded to them
when faced with harm from both state and non-state actors. Large numbers of Muslims are
reportedly “deeply disenchanted with routine police abuse and with the lawlessness and
abuses of power under the current regime”.21 Displaced Muslims in army-controlled areas
have spoken of “intimidation and harassment at the hands of the military”, where
“perpetrators are able to act with impunity, and victims are denied access to justice”.22
13
Glazov, J. 2009, „Throwing Rifqa to the Wolves‟, FrontPage Magazine, 16 October
http://frontpagemag.com/2009/10/16/feeding-rifqa-bary-to-the-wolves-by-jamie-glazov/ – Accessed 5 October 2011
14
„Rifqa Bary timeline‟ 2009, The Columbus Dispatch, 28 October
http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2009/10/14/rifqa_timeline.html – Accessed 7 October 2011
15
Geller, P. 2010, „Rifqa Bary‟s New Problem‟, American Thinker website, 15 August
http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/08/rifqa_barys_new_problem.html – Accessed 5 October 2011
16
„Runaway Christian Convert From Ohio Gains Legal U.S. Residency‟ 2010, Fox News, source: Associated Press,
7 September http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/09/07/runaway-christian-convert-ohio-gains-legal-residency/ –
Accessed 7 October 2011
17
„Runaway Christian convert granted U.S. residency‟ 2010, CNN, 7 September http://articles.cnn.com/2010-0907/us/ohio.muslim.convert_1_rifqa-bary-mohamed-bary-kort-gatterdam?_s=PM:US – Accessed 7 October 2011
18
US Department of State 2011, International Religious Freedom Report for 2010 (July-December) – Sri Lanka, 13
September, Introduction
19
US Department of State 2011, International Religious Freedom Report for 2010 (July-December) – Sri Lanka, 13
September, Section I
20
Minority Rights Group International 2011, No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri
Lanka, 19 January, Minority Rights Group International website, p.14
http://www.minorityrights.org/download.php?id=921 – Accessed 28 March 2011
21
International Crisis Group 2010, „Sri Lanka: A Bitter Peace‟, International Crisis Group website, 11 January
http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/asia/south_asia/sri_lanka/b99_sri_lanka___a_bitter_peace.pdf –
Accessed 28 January 2010, p.22
22
Minority Rights Group International 2011, No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri
Lanka, 19 January, Minority Rights Group International website, p.3
http://www.minorityrights.org/download.php?id=921 – Accessed 28 March 2011
Page 3 of 6
In September 2011, a group of Buddhist monks destroyed a Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura,
claiming that the land on which the shrine was located had been afforded to Buddhists 2,000
years ago. The monks also claimed that local Muslims had been illegally attempting to
convert the shrine into a mosque. According to witnesses, police officers were present during
the incident yet failed to take any action to prevent the shrine‟s destruction. The police,
however, denied being present.23 24 Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
criticised the attack, although stated that “he could only give protection for religious sites
where it was sought, and that he was unable to order the shrine to be rebuilt”. He suggested
that the case be taken to the religious affairs ministry.25
In September 2009, dozens of Muslims in Colombo protested against alleged police brutality
aimed at members of their community, following the deaths of more than 16 people at the
hands of police. The police argued that their actions targeted underworld figures in a
crackdown on organised crime, and denied any bias in the killings. The government was
unapologetic regarding the deaths, stating that its resources are now being used to address
organised crime, and that the police had only killed criminals in self-defence.26
Christians, who constitute 8 per cent of the population, have also complained that the
government condones violence and harassment directed towards them, which is usually
perpetrated by Buddhists. The US Department of State reports that police response to attacks
on Christians is generally inadequate, and that some police officials are reluctant to pursue
legal action against the perpetrators. Nevertheless, police protection is generally provided to
Christian groups upon request.27
23
Haviland, C. 2011, „Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine‟, BBC News, 15 September
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-14926002 – Accessed 6 October 2011
24
„Buddhists Destroy Muslim Shrine in Sri Lanka: Report‟ 2011, International Business Times, 15 September
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/214559/20110915/sri-lanka-muslim-shrine-buddhist-monks-sinhalese.htm –
Accessed 6 October 2011
25
Haviland, C. 2011, „Sri Lanka clarifies fate of destroyed Muslim shrine‟, BBC News, 19 September
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-14969199 – Accessed 6 October 2011
26
Haviland, C. 2009, „S Lanka Muslim protest at police‟, BBC News, 4 September http://ne
ws.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8238454.stm – Accessed 7 September 2009
27
US Department of State 2011, International Religious Freedom Report for 2010 (July-December) – Sri Lanka, 13
September, Sections I, III
Page 4 of 6
References
„Buddhists Destroy Muslim Shrine in Sri Lanka: Report‟ 2011, International Business Times, 15
September http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/214559/20110915/sri-lanka-muslim-shrine-buddhistmonks-sinhalese.htm – Accessed 6 October 2011.
„Lay trainees ease mixed marriage blues‟ 2011, UCA News, 23 February
http://www.ucanews.com/2011/02/23/lay-trainees-ease-mixed-marriage-blues/ – Accessed 5
October 2011.
„Mixed and matched‟ 2002, The Sunday Times Mirror Magazine, 3 March
http://sundaytimes.lk/020303/mirror4.html – Accessed 5 October 2011.
„Parents worry loss of identity through mixed marriages‟ 2010, UCA News, 30 December
http://www.ucanews.com/2010/12/30/parents-worry-loss-of-identity-through-mixed-marriages/ –
Accessed 5 October 2011.
„Rifqa Bary timeline‟ 2009, The Columbus Dispatch, 28 October
http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2009/10/14/rifqa_timeline.html – Accessed 7
October 2011.
„Runaway Christian Convert From Ohio Gains Legal U.S. Residency‟ 2010, Fox News, source:
Associated Press, 7 September http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/09/07/runaway-christianconvert-ohio-gains-legal-residency/ – Accessed 7 October 2011.
„Runaway Christian convert granted U.S. residency‟ 2010, CNN, 7 September
http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-07/us/ohio.muslim.convert_1_rifqa-bary-mohamed-bary-kortgatterdam?_s=PM:US – Accessed 7 October 2011.
„Sri Lank: Defeat sows seeds of future conflict‟ 2009, Socialist Review, International Socialist
Organisation of Aotearoa/New Zealand website, Issue 29, 19 July http://www.iso.org.nz/socialistreview/archive/64-socialist-review-issue-29/461-sri-lank-defeat-sows-seeds-of-futureconflict.html – Accessed 4 October 2011.
De Munck, V. C. and Weerakoon, P. 1997-2001, „Sri Lanka‟, in Francoeur, R. T., The
International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Volume I – IV 1997-2001, The Continuum Publishing
Company, New York, Humboldt University Berlin website http://www2.huberlin.de/sexology/IES/srilanka.html – Accessed 5 October 2011.
Geller, P. 2010, „Rifqa Bary‟s New Problem‟, American Thinker website, 15 August
http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/08/rifqa_barys_new_problem.html – Accessed 5 October
2011.
Glazov, J. 2009, „Throwing Rifqa to the Wolves‟, FrontPage Magazine, 16 October
http://frontpagemag.com/2009/10/16/feeding-rifqa-bary-to-the-wolves-by-jamie-glazov/ –
Accessed 5 October 2011.
Haviland, C. 2009, „S Lanka Muslim protest at police‟, BBC News, 4 September http://ne
ws.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8238454.stm – Accessed 7 September 2009. (CISNET Sri Lanka
CX232911)
Haviland, C. 2011, „Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine‟, BBC News, 15
September http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-14926002 – Accessed 6 October 2011.
Page 5 of 6
Haviland, C. 2011, „Sri Lanka clarifies fate of destroyed Muslim shrine‟, BBC News, 19
September http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-14969199 – Accessed 6 October 2011.
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada 2003, LKA41788.E – Sri Lanka: Societal treatment of
interracial couples in Colombo, particularly between Tamils and the Sinhalese, 6 August.
(REFINFO)
International Crisis Group 2010, „Sri Lanka: A Bitter Peace‟, International Crisis Group website,
11 January
http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/asia/south_asia/sri_lanka/b99_sri_lanka___a_bitter
_peace.pdf – Accessed 28 January 2010.
McKenna, C. 2011, „Working with the Asia Foundation in Sri Lanka‟, Canadian Lawyers
Abroad‟s Blog website, 23 August
http://canadianlawyersabroad.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/working-with-the-asia-foundation-insri-lanka/ – Accessed 4 October 2011.
Minority Rights Group International 2011, No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and
justice in Sri Lanka, 19 January, Minority Rights Group International website
http://www.minorityrights.org/download.php?id=921 – Accessed 28 March 2011.
Singh, A. K. 2009, „Sri Lanka: Tainted Dawn‟, South Asia Intelligence Review, 13 July http:
//satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/sair8/8_1.htm – Accessed 22 July 2009. (CISNET Sri Lanka
CX230466)
Tagore-Erwin, M. (undated), „Mixed Marriages Part III‟, Vivaaha website, source: Hinduism
Today http://www.vivaaha.org/newpage12.htm – Accessed 5 October 2011.
US Department of State 2011, International Religious Freedom Report for 2010 (July-December)
– Sri Lanka, 13 September.
Page 6 of 6

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