12/16/2023, 15.08
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Uttar Pradesh: talking about religion not a crime, court releases six Christians

by Nirmala Carvalho

This was stipulated in a Sonbhadra court ruling granting freedom on bail. They were part of a group of 42 people arrested Nov. 29 on charges of converting the poor by fraudulent means. Fr. Anand Mathew: ongoing "severe persecution" characterized by "false narratives" in media and social media.

Delhi (AsiaNews) - "Propagating religion and promoting positive elements about religion is not a crime," states a sentence issued this week by a court in the district of Sonbhadra, in Uttar Pradesh, granting release on bail to six defendants accused of converting lower caste people and marginalized members of the Hindu community to Christianity.

The charge was of (alleged) proselytism perpetrated through enticements and promises of incentives in the event of a change of professed faith.The freed people are part of a larger group of 42 elements arrested by the police on November 29 in the Sonbhadra district, for having - at least according to the prosecution - attracted poor and tribal populations, inviting them to convert to Christianity through fraudulent means.

At the time of the arrest, the police declared that they had recovered a large quantity of religious books, propaganda material and laptops. Following a complaint from Nar Singh, a member of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), officers arrested 42 people under sections 3 and 5 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.

The aforementioned anti-conversion law punishes cases of conversion to another faith through misinformation, the prospect of compensation or other gain, force or coercion, with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

A government lawyer opposed the six Christians' bail application, accusing them of converting many people in the district's predominantly tribal locality through false promises, including miraculous healings. The Christians, however, have denied any wrongdoing, saying that the accusations made against them are baseless.

Fr Anand Mathew, of the Indian Missionary Society (IMS) based in Varanasi, explains to AsiaNews: "It is very unfortunate that in recent months innocent shepherds who spend time with Jesus' faithful in prayer are accused of forced conversion. Christians in Uttar Pradesh - he continues - are facing serious persecution. The press, media and social media spread false narratives. Pastors and leaders of the Christian community are depicted as crazy people who convert and convert by force. The Holy Bible is called propaganda material. Prayer meetings in which neither baptism nor conversion take place - concludes the priest - are defined as conversion meetings (dharmaantaran sabha)".

In the past, the Chief Minister of the State had issued a specific directive to all police forces, ordering them to arrest anyone accused of conversion by members of Hindu organizations, even if the accusation is clearly unfounded. Currently almost 95 faithful and pastors, including a Catholic priest, are in prison in Uttar Pradesh.

In the anti-conversion law promulgated in 2020 there is a clause according to which a complaint can only be filed by the victim himself or close relatives. But the police and the judiciary arrest anyone accused of violating the law, even without a complaint from the alleged victim.

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