US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, made visits to both the Hindu Ponnambalawaneswaram temple and the Buddhist Gangaramaya monastery amidst heightened concerns of religious persecution in Sri Lanka.
When visiting the Buddhist temple, she noted that it “provided valuable insight into the role Buddhism plays in Sri Lanka’s history and culture” whereas the Hindu temple was a “beautiful representation of Sri Lanka’s rich diversity and historic cultural heritage”.
Sri Lanka’s religious #diversity is unique and I’m looking forward to seeing temples, kovils, churches, and shrines across the island during my time here. This visit to Gangaramaya Temple provided valuable insight into the role Buddhism plays in history and culture. #100days pic.twitter.com/50fsw3hTFj
— Ambassador Julie Chung (@USAmbSL) February 28, 2022
For everyone commemorating #MahaShivaratri, I wish you all peace and health. The Sri Ponnambalawaneswaram Kovil is a beautiful representation of Sri Lanka’s rich #diversity and historic cultural #heritage. pic.twitter.com/iRtCpAsZwt
— Ambassador Julie Chung (@USAmbSL) March 1, 2022
Her statements two damning reports on religious freedom in Sri Lanka by the Cristian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which have highlighted the degradation of religious freedom on the island.
The CSW report details that Christians have been “targeted through legal means, via orders to close or register their places of worship". The report further adds that "Hindu kovils (temples) are coming under threat in the north-east as they are being replaced by Buddhist temples, and the grounds on which the kovils stand are being claimed as Buddhist archaeological sites by the Archaeological Department".
Further detailed in the report is how the Easter Sunday bombings has traumatised the Christian community and driven divisions between the Muslim and Christian community, which had previously enjoyed positive relationships.
The US report highlights the continued use of Sri Lanka's draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to target Muslims and jail them for lengthy periods on trumped-up charges. The report further adds that there have been attempts to “reduce the visibility of Islam through the destruction of mosques and restrictive stances on religious clothing". Further measures to reduce visibility include restricting Islamic religious practices, such as a ban on burqas and the closure of Islamic schools.
Former US for religious minorities during both the Obama and Trump administrations, Knox Thames has urged for international pressure and sanctions on Sri Lanka to force a change in the government's policy of religious persecution against Hindus, Christians, and Muslims.