12/12/2018, 17.52
INDIA
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Protestant clergyman arrested and then released in Bihar for screening film about Jesus

by Nirmala Carvalho

Rev Sojan was accused of "forced conversions" by residents of Bakhtiyarpur. Similar charges against a catholic priest were dropped in Varanasi.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A Protestant pastor, Rev Sojan, was arrested last Saturday in Bakhtiyarpur, a village in Patna District (Bihar), for screening Yeshu Masih (Jesus Christ), a film about the life of Jesus.

"The Rev Sojan was just showing a movie,” Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told AsiaNews. Unfortunately, “in this pre-election period, minorities are even more vulnerable and intimidated by the majority and its false accusations".

The incident shows that tensions between Hindu radicals and Christians are far from ending.

Villagers tried to stop the clergyman from showing the film and wanted him out of the village. the GCIC activist said. When he came back the next day he was accused of forced conversion, which led police to detain him for a few hours, before they took him back to his home village of Barh. Before they left, the agents told him not to return to Bakhtiyarpur.

As is often the case in India, charges of forced conversion are made against Protestant and Catholic clergy to prevent them from doing their work. This is also the case of Fr Vineet Vincent Pereira, a Catholic priest in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh).

Last November, Hindu radicals beat up the priest, who runs the Ishwar Dham prayer campus, after accusing him of forced conversions. Arrested by police, he went to trial but many of the charges were dismissed.

Fr Pereira “was acquitted on four charges out of eight,” said George. The others are still pending but “The priest is innocent.”

Pereira has been working at the ashram of Varanasi since June 2012, caring for sick people and the marginalised. According to the GCIC president, "he was attacked on the basis of fake news. They (Hindu radicals) spread false stories about him and forced conversions to Christianity."

“India is a secular country and religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution,” George explained. "Pastor Sojan was not involved in conversion activities, nor engaged in behaviour that was harmful to public order. This (the attack against him) was a violation of his human rights."

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