Indian court grants bail to priest accused of rape

Madhya Pradesh priest released from jail after medical report and complainant's false statement
Indian court grants bail to priest accused of rape

A Tamil Hindu devotee pierced with iron rods through his mouth and body takes part in the Panguni Uthiram festival in Bhopal in March. Madhya Pradesh state witnessed 52 attacks against Christians in 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A Catholic priest arrested on charges of raping a woman in India's Madhya Pradesh state was released on bail on Aug. 20 after a medical report found him incapable of performing any sexual act.

A trial court in state capital Bhopal granted bail to 52-year-old Father George Jacob, parish priest of Bhopal Archdiocese.

The medical report was the prime reason to grant bail as courts do not easily release those accused of rape, said a police officer connected with the investigation.

The complainant also made contradictory statements that helped the accused, the officer said. She initially identified herself as Hindu and unmarried but her documents proved her to be a married Muslim.

The false statement made her complaint suspicious, said the officer, who did want to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media. The woman also could not give the exact time of the alleged incident, the officer said.

Police will continue their investigation and the next court hearing is due on Aug. 25.

Police arrested the priest on Aug. 11 after the middle-aged woman complained that he raped her after inviting her to his presbytery and offering her a job in the school where he was principal.

Archdiocese spokesman Father Maria Stephen said the church in the central state was happy that the priest had been released. "Our prayers coupled with the truth helped the release of the priest," he told ucanews.com.

According to the priest, the woman came to his presbytery asking for some drinking water and then entered his room when he went inside to fetch the water. She then demanded money and he had to push her out but there was no other physical contact, Father Stephen said.

He is the second priest to be released on rape charges this year in Madhya Pradesh, a hotbed of anti-Christian violence.

Sanguinist Father Victor Mundargi was released on Feb. 28, two years after he was arrested and jailed on charges of raping a 10-year-old girl residing in a hostel under his care in Tappa village of Dewas district.

Christian leaders say missioners and priests are routinely arrested on fabricated charges in areas where Hindu groups want to turn India into a nation of Hindu dominance.

Hindu violence across India has increased in the past year and has been increasing ever since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in New Delhi in 2014.

Attacks against Christians, who constitute less than one percent of the state's 73 million people, more than doubled in 2017, according to a report by Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum.

Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the BJP, witnessed 52 attacks against Christians in 2017 and 28 in 2016, said the report.

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There were 736 reported attacks against Christians in 2017, up from 348 in 2016, said Persecution Relief.

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