- - Friday, April 5, 2024

Eleven Christians arrested in February under India’s anti-conversion law were freed in time to celebrate Easter. The final two of the group held under the country’s Freedom of Religion act were released from the Barabanki jail in northern Uttar Pradesh on bail March 27 and returned home.

Catholic priest Father Dominic Pinto, along with 10 evangelical leaders, were originally arrested and put behind bars under the anti-conversion law for organizing an evangelical meeting at a Catholic center. Father Donald D’Souza, Chancellor of Lucknow diocese, shared that Hindu fundamentalists barged into the Catholic center in February and insisted on the arrest of the Christian leaders, while other fundamentalists threatened the nearby convent and nuns.

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After the arrests, Bishop Ignatious D’Souza shared prayer requests for the imprisoned on social media.

“The Anti-Conversion Act has no provision for bail,” he said. “It is going to be difficult to bail out all those named in the case.”

As the bishop predicted, the trial court initially denied bail to the Christians. It took more than six weeks before five of them were released on bail by the state High Court.

“Three more were released a week later, and another two days later,” said advocate and lawyer Munish Chandra, who pleaded the persecuted Christians’ case in the court. “The last couple among the 11 were released just now [March 27]. Thank God they are all free and home for Easter. But many more innocent Christians are in jail. Being a Christian here is not easy.”

“Though the last of those still imprisoned had been granted bail by the court 10 days previously, arranging the bail bond took time,” Chandra said.

Since some of those arrested Christians are impoverished, they could not arrange their bail bond quickly, resulting in the delay of their release.

The United Christian Forum (UCF), a coalition of Christian organizations based in India, recently released stunning figures of violence in a March 22 report. Between January 1 and March 15, 2024, 161 incidents of violence against Christians were reported on the organization’s toll-free helpline number. Of the reported incidents, the UCF noted that 71 were cases of detainments and arrests based on conversion charges.

“Anti-conversion laws, enacted in 11 of 28 Indian states, are being abused to target the Christians,” said AC Michael, coordinator of the UCF. “In 2023, more than 300 questionable arrests were made under the Freedom of Religion Acts.

A UCF report recently removed from the internet by the Indian government stated that in nearly all incidents of religious violence, vigilante mobs made up of religious extremists were seen barging into prayer gatherings or rounding up individuals thought to be involved in forcible religious conversions. The mobs often criminally threaten or physically assault people praying before handing them over to police.

Anto Akkara is a writer for Global Christian Relief (GCR), America’s leading watchdog organization focused on the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide. In addition to equipping the Western church to advocate and pray for the persecuted, GCR works in the most restrictive countries to protect and encourage Christians threatened by faith-based discrimination and violence.

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