MADHYA PRADESH (19 February 2020) – This week, eight Christian pastors were acquitted of all charges. They had been falsely accused of kidnapping, and forceful conversion while accompanying children to a summer camp, and were arrested in May 2017. Initially, the children were questioned while the pastors awaited bail for three months. The acquittal marks a groundbreaking win for Christians in India. It highlights the false accusations and hostilities directed at religious minorities.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. We are grateful that the group of Christians have been acquitted of the crimes they were so unjustly accused of. Simply because they are part of a religious minority they were targeted and falsely accused of kidnapping and forceful conversion. The Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom to practice and propagate religion. Sadly, such cases are not isolated incidents, but the prevalence of justice in this case gives comfort to all those Christians and other religious minorities facing harassment and hostility,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India.
Persecution of Christians in India
On 23 May 2017, at Ratlam train station, Madhya Pradesh, the local police detained a group of pastors and fellow Christians, including two women and two minors, who were accompanying 60 children. The group was on its way to a Christian summer camp in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. All parents immediately confirmed in front of the local Court that they had willingly sent their children to the camp. While the children were allowed to return to their homes, the pastors and most of the coworkers were held in jail. The accused were only granted bail after three months and were acquitted of all charges this week.
In 2019, violence against Christians rose significantly. The United Christian Forum and ADF India documented over 300 incidents of harassment and mob violence against Christians. The attacks often take a similar shape and rarely receive any police attention. A mob will arrive at a prayer meeting or Christian gathering, shout abuse and harassment, and beat up those in attendance including women and children. Then, the pastors or priests are usually arrested by the police under false allegations of forced conversions.
“This case provides a telling example of the challenges faced by many Christians in India. The acquittal shows that the fundamental rights of religious minorities can and should be protected in the courtroom and through effective legal advocacy. Sadly, the recent violence and mob attacks testify to what many Christians and other religious minorities experience in India today. All people have the right to freely choose, and live out their faith. We urge the Indian government to uphold this right and do more to protect religious minorities and promote religious freedom,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.