Allegations By Bolu Bala Sena
Recently a Sri Lankan man in Saudi Arabia was said to have been arrested and possibly facing execution for worshipping a statue of Buddha in his employer’s house. The news led a Buddhist organization in Colombo to lodge a complaint (complaint number CN/158/1205) with the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, but the organization, Bodu Bala Sena, claimed that the bureau did not take any action. The news also resulted in demonstrations outside the Saudi Embassy in Colombo to demand for the man’s release. The demonstrators included not only the man’s family but also a Sri Lankan MP. But was the story true? According to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi Arabia, it was not.
The Sri Lankan Embassy’s Version Of The Arrest
An official from the Sri Lankan Embassy is said to have visited the man, Premanath Pereralage Thungasiri, in jail and ascertained that he had been arrested on some charge other than worshipping an idol. It seems that Premanath Pereralage Thungasiri was a driver (not a domestic worker as had been reported), and that his sponsor (or employer) had nothing to do with the case. According to the official, Premanath Pereralage Thungasiri had visited another Saudi Arabian’s house to resolve a dispute involving a housemaid there, who was his relative. He was arrested during the dispute. He is not facing execution. Instead he is said to have surrendered his passport and other documents and is awaiting deportation.
Rebuttal Of Other Allegations
Bodu Bala Sena had claimed that the practice of Buddhism and other religions, even some forms of Islam, is not tolerated in Saudi Arabia. To this, the official from the Sri Lankan Embassy said that, “So far, no Sri Lankan has been found guilty of practicing his own religion in the Kingdom”, much less been executed for it.
The official also pointed out that Vesak Day, Buddha’s birthday, was observed recently at the Sri Lankan missions in Saudi Arabia, with more than 20,000 expatriate workers attending the functions in Riyadh and Jeddah. Poson, the day that Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, was also observed without incident. He said that Sri Lankan workers in the kingdom, whether Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu, were leading “happy and contented lives”, and he urged the Sri Lankan community not to allow parties with vested interests to tarnish the image of Saudi Arabia, where some 500,000 Sri Lankans live.
Think About It
Which version of events is correct? Was Bodu Bala Sena too precipitate in its conclusions about the case? Was it too alarmist about conditions for Buddhists in Saudi Arabia? Despite their differing version of events, could the Sri Lankan Embassy and Bodu Bala Sena both be trying to protect Sri Lankan workers in Saudi Arabia, the former by maintaining good relations with the host country, and the latter by insisting on more active protection for the Sri Lankan workers there?