06/14/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Eight missionaries deported for praying

by Nirmala Carvalho
Maharashtra state authorities expell eight missionaries guilty of praying. "If they wanted to pray, they should have applied for a missionary visa, not a tourist visa," a police officer said.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A group of eight US missionaries were forced to leave India for violating visa conditions. Three of the missionaries—who were taking part in a religious ceremony in Malsani, a Mumbai suburb—were violently attacked on Saturday night by 40, irate people who mistook the religious gathering for a conversion ceremony.

Jinsi John, who was praying with the three Americans, said that "they were attacked as they were praying. Two of them—Craig Allen and Steve—were assaulted in the middle of the road; one was taken away and dumped by the road some distance away."

"They did not fight back when they were being beaten up, but kept praying," she added.

Although two missionaries were wounded in the assault, the police stopped only two of the attackers and later released them on bail.

John Dayal, President of the All India Christian Union (AICU), told AsiaNews: "The US government was too quick to remove India from the list of terrorist countries. The AICU is going to make an independent enquiry into this grave incident. [. . .] Anti-Christian violence is escalating in Maharashtra."

On its website, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) condemned the attack on a peaceful religious gathering even if it was held by a neo-Christian group with powerful preachers.

It is very "unfortunate that foreign nationals are not being treated well in our country, which has a rich tradition of [welcoming] guests. It is appalling that two US nationals were attacked—these days any Christian religious assembly is looked upon with suspicion," CBCI spokesman Babu Joseph Svd said.

After the attack, the police took the missionaries to the Malwani Foreigner Regional Registration Office where they were questioned for four hours.

The eight were eventually divided in two groups—four were deported to the United States on Sunday, June 12; the others, on the following day.

Speaking to AsiaNews, a senior police official said: "If they had wanted to come to India to preach, they should have come on a missionary visa instead of a tourist visa".

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