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June 21, 2017

SL minister under fire over attack on HR lawyer


June 21, 2017

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s justice minister faced calls for his resignation on Tuesday after accusing a human rights lawyer of misleading the public about a spate of crimes against Christian places of worship.

Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakse threatened to disbar Lakshan Dias after Dias said nearly 200 Christian holy sites had been vandalised since a new government took office in 2015.

The justice minister demanded on national television that Dias apologise for making "inflammatory statements", saying the Catholic church had personally assured him no such incidents had taken place.

However civil rights group were quick to point out that evangelical churches had long been targeted by radical groups. They suggested Rajapakse had confused Catholicism and evangelism and was not fit to serve as minister.

Human Rights Watch said the minister’s threat against a lawyer trying to defend a minority group would "have reverberations beyond Sri Lanka".

"Sri Lanka’s friends should be clear they are watching the government’s response closely," Brad Adams, from the New York-based group, said in a statement.

Dias said Rajapakse had attacked him without verifying facts. He pointed to a recent report by a Sri Lankan evangelical alliance that recorded 215 incidents of violence against Christians since President Maithripala Sirisena took office in January 2015.

It also listed 41 incidents targeting Muslims, a minority which has been subjected to a series of arson attacks in the Buddhist-majority island in recent months.

A radical Buddhist group blamed for torching Muslim businesses, cemeteries and mosques said on Tuesday its fugitive leader Galagodaatte Gnanasara would turn himself into police if his protection was assured.

Gnanasara maintains close ties with Wirathu, an extremist monk in Mandalay whose hate speech has galvanised religious tensions in Myanmar.

The government has vowed to protect Muslims and other religious minorities and prevent violence from escalating. It promises tougher laws to combat hate speech.

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