A Catholic bishop in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh condemned the arrest las week of at least 55 Evangelical Christians for allegedly violating a law that prohibits religious conversions during a Holy Week service.
“The arrest of Christians in Fatehpur (in Harihar Ganj district) is illegal and entirely condemnable,” said Bishop Gerald Mathias of the Catholic Diocese of Lucknow.
He said the faithful were only participating in a liturgy and “no conversion was in progress,” adding that the accusation of illegal conversion “is absolutely without foundation.”
The prelate told AsiaNews that the allegations against the Christians were “artfully manufactured” by Hindu fundamentalists.
He said those arrested were later released “precisely because the accusation was manifestly false.”
The prelate said Hindu fundamentalists have been going around, actings as vigilantes and taking the law into their hands.
Close to a hundred members of the Evangelical Church of India were gathered inside a church in Fatehpur for the Holy Week service when Hindu activists locked the doors from outside.
When the police arrived, the Christians were questioned over allegations that they were trying to convert people.
Police withdrew the charges of violation of the state’s anti-conversion law after holding the Christians overnight in detention.
“Sadly, Uttar Pradesh is one of the harshest states in India regarding religious freedom violations,” said Jeff King, president of rights group International Christian Concern.
“When the Indian authorities validate the actions of a violent mob by jailing the mob’s victims, they are sending a message that criminal activity is approved by the authorities whenever it targets religious minorities,” he said in a statement.
He said the incident “only worsens the religious freedom climate and further increases the vulnerability of Christians to more violence.”
“Anti-conversion laws are inherently subjective, and perception-based, therefore completely restricting the rights of Christians to public expressions of their faith,” said King.
Data from the group United Christian Forum show that the state of Uttar Pradesh has one of the most cases of religious persecutions, with 105 violent attacks against religious minority in 2021.