Updated: July 27, 2021 08:44 AM GMT
Father George Ponnaiah denies hurting religious sentiments. (Photo: YouTube)
A trial court in Tamil Nadu state has remanded a Catholic priest in judicial custody for 15 days for alleged hate speech among other charges after Hindu groups threatened to launch protests demanding his arrest.
Father George Ponnaiah, a vicar of Kuzhithurai Diocese in the southern Indian state, was arrested on July 24 morning as he was heading for an undisclosed destination, apparently after police registered a criminal offense against him at Arumanai police station for alleged hate speech on July 18.
A video of the priest that went viral reportedly contained objectionable statements about various religious communities, leaders of the state's ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government and leaders of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
In a statement before his arrest, the priest denied the charges, saying someone had doctored the original video to trap him in a false case. He also apologized to religious people.
“My speech has been edited and circulated on social media to show that I hurt the sentiments of Hindu brothers and sisters. None of us on the dais said anything hurting religious sentiments. If my speech hurt anyone, I apologize wholeheartedly,” Father Ponnaiah said.
Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai, who is also the apostolic administrator of Kuzhithurai Diocese, disapproved of the alleged remarks of the detained priest, saying the Catholic Church does not support them.
The diocese will fight the case legally and an attorney has been appointed to move bail for the priest
“The priest is head of an association called the Democratic Christian Forum and all the comments attributed to him were made in his personal capacity,” Archbishop Pappusamy told UCA News on July 26.
The prelate said he was not sure if the priest really had made such statements.
The Church and its personnel always strive toward greater harmony and peace among people of all walks of life and different religious communities as “we believe in universal brotherhood,” added the prelate.
“The diocese will fight the case legally and an attorney has been appointed to move bail for the priest,” he said.
Archbishop Pappusamy said he could not talk to the priest to know the reality but had decided to provide him with legal help to fight the case.
Meanwhile, other Christian leaders considered the arrest and judicial custody of the priest as an attempt to terrorize people who speak against the leaders of the BJP and other right-wing organizations.
Hindu groups threatened to stage protests on July 28 if Father Ponnaiah was not arrested. Police registered a case against him on July 21.
He faces charges of promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence and language; deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs; and creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes.
The priest is also charged with violating Covid-19 protocols.