12/23/2023, 12.53
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Uttar Pradesh: Fr Babu Francis released after three months in prison

by Nirmala Carvalho

He was arrested for defending other Christians arrested under the state’s anti-conversion law, adopted three years ago by the governing Hindu nationalist party. Bishop Louis Mascarenhas of Allahabad welcomed his release as an unexpected "Christmas gift”.

Allahabad (AsiaNews) – Father Babu Francis, director of social work at the Diocese of Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), was released from prison yesterday, four days after the Allahabad High Court granted him bail. The authorities had arrested him three months ago on suspicion of violating of the state’s anti-conversion law.

“It’s is a Christmas gift for us. Our joy has no words to be expressed,” said Bishop Louis Mascarenhas of Allahabad upon greeting Father Francis at the gate of Naini prison, Prayagraj district, with a bouquet of flowers.

About 11 of India's 28 states have passed laws criminalising forced conversions, but in practice, they have been used to prevent the practice of the Christian faith.

Nearly 400 Christians have been arrested in Uttar Pradesh alone since the law was passed in 2021 – Fr Francis is one of them. He was detained when he went to the police station to enquire about three other Catholics from his diocese detained for the same reason.

Vibhavnath Bharati, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, filed a complaint on 1 October at the Naini police station, falsely accusing Father Babu and other members of the Diocese of trying to convert villagers.

In 2014,  when Prime Minister Modi took office, 147 incidents of violence and arrests against Christians were reported; since then, the cases have steadily increased: 177 in 2015; 208 in 2016; 240 in 2017; 292 in 2018; 328 in 2019; 279 in 2020; 505 in 2021; 599 in 2022; and 687 as of November 2023, 531 of which in four northern states, including Uttar Pradesh, which alone accounted for 287, this according to the United Christian Forum (UCF).

“Anti-conversion laws are being abused to target Christians,” said UCF coordinator A C Michael. “More than 300 questionable arrests have been made under FORA (Freedom of Religious Acts),” he explained. 

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