By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy Nees
NEW DELHI (Worthy News) – Police in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state have detained dozens of evangelical Christians for allegedly violating a law banning “religious conversion” after complaints by Hindus.
Footage and statements obtained by Worthy News showed the state charged more than 50 Christians attending a “Maundy Thursday” service of their Evangelical Church of India (ECI) in Fatehpur in the Harihar Ganj district.
Among them, 26 people were detained and later released on bail, but police said they were searching for others included in the complaint known as the “first information report” (FIR).
The ECI’s Maundy Thursday service, which recalled the Biblical account of the Last Supper of Jesus with His apostles before He was crucified, was interrupted by angry Hindus.
Several Christians said right-wing Hindu activists gathered outside the church locking its two main gates. They then were heard shouting slogans such as “Stop conversion.”
When police arrived at the scene, they interrogated Christian worshipers and kept them inside the church for close to three hours, said Christians with knowledge about the case.
Hindu leaders were seen entering the church demanding the personal details of some 70 Christian attendees. Dozens of Christians, including women and children, were then taken to the police station, Worthy News established. Later that night, the women and children were reportedly allowed to go home while 26 males were kept in custody.
Christians said they were told they “were kept in the police station for their safety.” But when taken for a medical examination, they were charged for illegal conversion, Christians and police confirmed.
Police said a representative of the rightwing Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) claimed 90 Hindus were illegally converted to Christianity by the ‘Evangelical Church of India.’
The following day on Good Friday, those held at the police station was taken to court, where nine of them were freed on bail, while the others were released Saturday, April 16, Christians said.
Police later reportedly withdrew the charges of violating the state’s anti-conversion law. However, they were charged under provisions of the Penal Code for “intimidation and creating rifts or hatred between religious groups,” church sources said.
Promod Singh, a Delhi-based lawyer who assisted the Christians, said in published remarks that police had detained those who interrupted “a peaceful prayer meeting.” However, “to my knowledge, no FIR was registered against them.”
It comes amid mounting pressure on devoted Christians in India, a mainly Hindu nation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where hardline groups oppose the spread of Christianity.
A growing number of Indian states have adopted controversial anti-conversion laws, affecting Christian worship, evangelism, and mission work.
The United Christian Forum (UCF), an inter-denominational Christian organization, says 2021 was one of the worst years for Christians as they faced persecution across India.
Uttar Pradesh leads Indian states where Christians face persecution, especially in 2021, with 105 violent attacks against the religious minority, church sources said.
Already 486 incidents of violent attacks against minority Christians were reported in 2020, the highest since the 328 seen the previous year.
They were also far more widespread than previously recorded, with incidents reported in 20 states and two union territories, said a report cited by the Union of Catholic Asian News.
There are just under 69 million Christians in India, but they make up just five percent of the country’s Hindu-majority population, according to the Christian advocacy group Open Doors. India ranks 10th on the Open Doors annual World Watch List of 50 nations where Christians reportedly suffer most for their faith in Christ.
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