India

Court saves Indian students from arrest under sweeping law

They are among several people in Uttar Pradesh, including a Catholic priest, facing conversion charges

UCA News reporter

Updated: March 19, 2024 10:01 AM GMT

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) greets Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath during his oath-taking as chief minister in the state capital Lucknow on March 25, 2022. The monk-turned-politician introduced the sweeping anti-conversion law in India’s most populous state. (Photo: AFP)

The top court in a northern Indian state has prevented police from arresting three Catholic girls facing charges under a stringent anti-conversion law along with a Catholic priest and several others.

The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh granted anticipatory bail to the college girls on March 18, while asking police in the state, ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), not to arrest them.

We are very happy that the girls can now move freely without the fear of arrest, said lawyer Munish Kumar Chandra, who pleaded their case in the High Court.

We approached the top court after the lower district court turned down their bail plea, Chandra told UCA News on March 19.

The district court on March 12 granted bail to 11 accused in the case, including Father Dominic Pinto of Lucknow diocese.

Pinto, director of the diocesan social work center, was arrested on Feb. 5 along with 10 Protestant Christians who conducted a routine prayer service at the center.

The service was portrayed as a mass conversion activity which is banned under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Act, 2021.

There is not an iota of truth in the allegation, according to Father Donald D'Souza, chancellor and spokesperson of Lucknow diocese.

Pinto did not attend the gathering. But he allowed the prayer service to be held at the pastoral center,  D'Souza added.

The college girls were also named as accused in the case, Chandra the lawyer said.

The complaint filed at the Deva police station in Uttar Pradesh named 15 persons, including five women. 

The complainant Brijesh Kumar Vaishya, a BJP activist, accused them of luring poor Hindus to Christianity.

Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, tops the list of states where the largest number of attacks against Christians have been recorded since the BJP came to power there in 2017.

The state accounted for 287 of 687 recorded incidents targeting Christians across the country from January to November 2023, according to data collected by United Christian Forum, a New Delhi-based ecumenical group.

Christians make up a mere 0.18 percent of the Hindu-majority state's more than 200 million people.

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