Police arrested Rev Charlie John on charges of forced conversion aggravated by monetary inducement. For the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, the “persecution of minority Christians must stop.”
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Last Tuesday evening, police in Rampur, a city of Himachal Pradesh (northern India), arrested a Pentecostal clergyman, Rev Charlie John, on charges of forced conversion using money to induce people to convert.
The pastor was reportedly handing out Gospel booklets and Bibles in the village of Lalas when a group of extremists went up to him, ordering him to stop.
In addition to Rev John, two brothers, Vishal and Keval Ram were also arrested on charges of forced conversion. When questioned, they rejected the accusations, reiterating their innocence.
“I only offered the Bible, and I gave it to those who freely accept the Good News,” Rev John said. “If anyone refused, I didn't insist. We did not convert anyone; I'm even willing to offer the Bible, which is God's Word, even to the police.
“What we do is share the Good News with people, tell them about Jesus, without forcing anyone to convert. The accusations made against me are totally false; I have never offered money for the conversion of people ".
Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), spoke to AsiaNews about the incident.
“The GCIC strongly condemns the arrest of Pastor Charlie John, with baseless accusations of forced conversion just because he was distributing Gospel booklets and Bibles,” George said.
The law that regulates religious freedom in the Indian state, “the Freedom of Religion Bill of Himachal Pradesh, is used as an instrument to harass innocent Christians,” he explained.
“Article 25 of the Indian constitution guarantees religious freedom and Pastor Charlie has not breached any laws. The persecution of minority Christians must stop in secular India.”
Himachal Pradesh’s religious freedom law was amended in 2019; compared to the previous version (2006), it is tougher on forced conversion.
Section 3 reads: “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or by any fraudulent means”.
Under the law, any violator could get up to five years in prison.