SRI LANKA: Religious freedom at risk
Police in Kalutara, Sri Lanka used water cannons and tear gas to disperse a group of about 3,000 Catholics who were demanding the return of a confiscated statue. Several police officers and demonstrators were reportedly injured in the melee in the seaside resort town.
Police had removed the statue of St Philip Neri after a group of Buddhist monks complained that the church had erected it without official permission from government authorities. Church officials argued that the statue of its patron saint was protected by religious freedom provisions within Sri Lanka’s constitution.
Shortly after the statue’s removal, protesters gathered and blocked traffic along Galle Road, a major thoroughfare. Fr Suran Attidiya, who participated in the demonstration, said he was joined by about 3,000 others who sought the return of their “beloved saint’s statue”. “The Sri Lankan constitution guarantees freedom of religion for everyone, not only the majority religion,” said Fr Attidiya. “Catholics have every right to place the statue there.”