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Author Sarah Malini Perera held ‘for offending Buddhists’ in Sri Lanka

[Times Online UK, Monday, 29 March 2010 08:46 No Comment]

by Jeremy Page

An expatriate Sri Lankan woman who wrote two books about her conversion from Buddhism to Islam has been arrested while on holiday in Sri Lanka, apparently for causing offence to Buddhists.

Sarah Malini Perera, who was born in Sri Lanka but has lived in Bahrain since 1985 and converted to Islam in 1999, was arrested last week under the country’s strict emergency laws, according to the police.

They declined to give precise details of the 38-year-old writer’s offence, but suggested that her books were deemed to have caused offence to ethnic Sinhalese Buddhists, who account for about 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people.

News of her arrest came just a few days after protests by Buddhist nationalists prompted the Sri Lankan Government to refuse a visa to Akon, the Senegalese-American singer who had been due to perform in Colombo next month.

Buddhist activists stormed the concert’s media partner last Monday to protest over the video for Akon’s song Sexy Bitch, which showed bikini-clad women dancing by a pool in Ibiza with a Buddha statue in the background.

The two incidents have raised concerns about the growing influence of hardline Buddhist nationalists on Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition, which is widely expected to win parliamentary elections on April 8.

Sri Lanka’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but also says that the state “shall give Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster” the religion.

The Buddhist nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party, which is part of the ruling coalition and a major influence on Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President, has been trying to introduce a law banning religious conversion since 2004.

“Perhaps as a nation, we have reached the stage where the kind of absurd protests that take place in the name of Buddhism need to be critically analysed,” said an editorial yesterday in the Sunday Leader, a pro-opposition newspaper.

“In short, the fundamentalist attitude shown by some has received state approval.” The Sunday Leader quoted a police spokesman saying that the writer had been detained on the orders of the Defence Ministry, which is controlled by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary who is also the President’s brother.

Ms Perera, whose parents and four sisters have also converted to Islam, was detained after trying to mail copies of her books overseas, according to her family.

The Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News quoted the writer’s sister saying that the police had acted on a tip-off by a member of a Buddhist nationalist party who worked at the cargo company handling the books.

Ms Perera recently completed two books on her conversion, called From Darkness to Light and Questions and Answers, and was having them printed in Sri Lanka, according to the sister.

Dr Abdulla Al Deerazi, the secretary-general of the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), urged Sri Lankan authorities to free Ms Perera.

“Secondly, there is something called freedom of opinion, if it’s not offending any religion,” he was quoted as saying on the BHRS web site.

[Full Coverage]

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