Nine Christian pastors were arrested and jailed on false charges of conversion activities in Azamgarh, in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh early this week.
The pastors and a recently married Christian couple were arrested by police at a wedding reception, said a report released by International Christian Concern (ICC).
Radical Hindu nationalists pressured the police to act against the Christians, said the report, adding that a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against the pastors under the state’s draconian anti-conversion law.
Witnesses told ICC that the pastor of an Assemblies of God Church hosted a wedding reception at his house for his daughter and son-in-law.
During the reception, police raided the home and confiscated Bibles and other Christian items, alleging that the gathering was a conversion program.
The host pastor explained that it was purely a wedding reception for his daughter, but police ignored his pleas and arrested the Christian pastors and the newly wedded couple.
“These days are very challenging days in our state,” said a Christian leader from Uttar Pradesh.
“More than 200 churches were shut down in the last few months, and 52 pastors and Christians are reeling in the prisons across the state of Uttar Pradesh,” he added.
The Christian leader who asked not to be named, described the situation of Christians in the country as “challenging.”
“Christians are living under the fear of being targeted and attacked for no reason, and police just need a complaint for them to act and send them to jail under the anti-conversion law,” said another Christian villager.
The United Christian Forum (UCF) recently released a report detailing the exponential growth of Christian persecution in recent years.
The report said that violence against Indian Christians is at an all-time high. This year saw the highest spike in incidents across India. Uttar Pradesh was the most egregious, with 149 attacks against Christians.
“India’s anti-conversion laws are not a means to protect religious freedom, but rather a mechanism for the government to oppress and punish religious minorities,” said Jeff King, ICC president, in a statement.
“Our Indian brothers and sisters are facing increased levels of persecution since the adoption of these laws. India claims to be the world’s largest democracy, yet shamelessly violates human rights,” he added.