Five of the six pastors released from a jail pose for a photograph with their friend (in yellow shirt) just outside the prison soon after they were released. (Photo supplied)
Six pastors were released on bail by a court in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after the prosecution failed to prove charges of attempting to incite a riot and hostility between religions.
The pastors who belong to the Seva Bharat (serve India) Church were released on a surety of 20,000 rupees (US$298) on May 20, nine days after they were arrested in Salempur village, said Sanjay Kumar, a member of the church from the village.
The pastors from the neo-Christian church were slapped with charges of disturbing communal peace, creating hostility between religions and attempting to incite a riot. Kumar said that, apart from the prosecution failing to produce evidence, the court also found anomalies in the police complaint and subsequently granted bail.
One of those charged, Pastor Bala Lakhandar told ucanews.com the police arrested "us on May 10 at the house of a believer in the village where we had gathered for a healing prayer session."
Lakhandar said Hindu activists objected to the prayer meeting and informed the police who came with media and cordoned off the house where around 250 believers were gathered. They arrested the six pastors who were present.
The pastor said they faced harassment in jail. Inmates pulled their hair, took away their beds and verbally abused them for being Christians.
Pastor Mangaleshwar Prasad, the main organizer of the prayer meeting who was also arrested, told ucanews.com, "There was no provocation from our side; we were there only to offer prayers."
"The police took us into custody without listening to our pleas and lodged a complaint without any evidence," Prasad added.
According to Pastor Anil Andrias, who was coordinating the prayer program, the Hindu activists tried every trick possible to block their bail. "They staged protests and told the police to register fake complaints against the innocent ministers accusing them of indulging in religious conversion," he told ucanews.com.
However, Uttar Pradesh does not have an anti-conversion law, unlike several other Indian states, so the pastors were framed with charges of organizing a riot and creating enmity between religions. Church leaders have time and again expressed concern over Christians facing trouble in the state, especially after Hindu hardliner Yogi Adityanath became chief minister there in April.
"We are living in a very dangerous situation. Hindu activists are leaving no stone unturned in their plans to make people give up Christianity," Andrias said.
"Our prayer meetings were attacked and we are implicated in false cases," he said, adding that the Hindu fundamentalists act with impunity.
Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, has some 200 million people, with Hindus forming close to 80 percent. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains together form the remaining 1 percent, with Christian numbering some 360,000 or just 0.18 percent of the total population, according to 2011 government census. Muslims make up the rest.