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Indian pastor, wife freed after 30 days behind bars

Court says police cannot prove the couple were converting people to Christianity
Christian devotees participate in a prayer meeting in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh

Christian devotees participate in a prayer meeting in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Facebook)

Published: March 30, 2023 06:15 AM GMT
Updated: March 30, 2023 06:43 AM GMT

A Protestant couple accused of religious conversion in a northern Indian state has been released from jail after spending 30 days behind bars.

“Pastor John and his wife were granted bail and were released on March 27 after a district court observed that allegations of religious conversion against them could not be proved,” their lawyer, who did not want to be named, told UCA News on March 29.

Pastor Santosh John and his wife, Jiji John, were arrested on Feb. 26 following complaints of religious conversion by Bajrang Dal, a group of Hindu hardliners, in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state which is ruled by the pro-Hindu party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The lawyer said that “the hardline Hindu group could not give any solid evidence” against the couple who were picked up while conducting Sunday prayers in the state's Ghaziabad district.

“The allegation that the pastor and his wife distributed some T-shirts, pamphlets and conducted prayer services at their rented house does not prove that they have been forcing people to change religion,” the court observed while releasing the couple.

Minakshi Singh, a Christian activist who helped the couple secure bail, said it was a fabricated case by vested interest groups to disturb communal harmony in India’s most sensitive state, which has witnessed communal riots on many occasions.

“However, the truth has triumphed,” said Singh, general secretary of Unity in Compassion, a charity based in Uttar Pradesh, where Hindu monk-turned-politician, Yogi Adityanath, rules as chief minister.

Christians make up 0.18 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s 200 million people. India’s most populous state enacted a draconian anti-conversion law on Nov. 27, 2020, and registered a total of 108 cases under the controversial law within one year.

Singh, however, said that “Pastor John and his wife were jailed for no fault of theirs.”

It seems the police came under pressure from the administration and Bajrang Dal, an influential fringe Hindu militant group. Why should they arrest the pastor and his wife without any evidence? "We all know who is behind the incident,” she said.

According to data compiled by the United Christian Forum, which traces atrocities against Christians, Uttar Pradesh recorded 149 incidents of persecution in 2022 with 38 cases registered under the sweeping anti-conversion law. 

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