NEW DELHI, India (LifeSiteNews) — Indian police this week arrested seven Christians including a Catholic priest and five Protestant pastors on false allegations of attempting “forced conversions” of Hindus to Christianity.
The incident took place in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and elicited a prompt condemnation from the local Catholic Bishop of Bareilly, who called for the release of the priest and his fellow prisoners.
Bishop Ignatius D’Souza condemned the move as a blatant act of persecution, noting no attempt at forced conversion had been made. The bishop told local news outlets that the arrests centered on a prayer service conducted by Indians who call themselves “Khrist Bhakts” (followers of Christ), who are not baptized and so not officially converted to Christianity but who follow the teachings of Christ. The prayer service was held at the diocesan pastoral center.
The prayer service prompted Hindu activists to disrupt the event, begin vandalizing the center, attempt to assault the women present, and to then complain to police, who arrested seven Christians, including the priest who made the center available for the service, Father Dominic Pinto of the Lucknow diocese.
D’Souza affirmed to UCA News after the arrest that Pinto “did not even attend the prayer gathering.” “He only provided space for it to be held at the pastoral center, which is a normal practice,” he said. “Nobody is converted or asked to become Christian. But still, police arrested our people.”
According to reports, the complaint filed at the Deva police station accused 15 people of violation of the state’s draconian anti-conversion law, which require that a person inform district authorities of any intention to change their religion 30 days prior to the formal religious ceremony of initiation, such as baptism. Converts must also prove that they are not being forced or “lured” into conversion.
Hindu activists accused Pinto and those arrested with him of “luring” Hindus living in poverty to become Christian. The arrested Christians were kept overnight behind bars and were to appear before a magistrate.
This week’s arrests bring the number of Christians arrested and jailed so far this year under the anti-conversion law to 26. Violations of the law carry up to a 10-year prison sentence and a fine. The Supreme Court in India is hearing petitions seeking to repeal the country’s anti-religious conversion laws.
According to UCA News, “persecution against Christians has witnessed a sharp rise in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in the country, in recent years. From January to November last year, the state accounted for 287 of the 687 recorded incidents targeting Christians across the country, according to data collected by United Christian Forum, a New Delhi-based ecumenical group.”
In a letter to the youth of his diocese, D’Souza asked for prayers of intercession on behalf of Pinto. He wrote:
My dear Youth,
The Grace and Peace of Christ Jesus be with you!
All of you are well aware of the current situation of Fr. Dominic Pinto. He was produced before the Magistrate in ACJM court today at 5 p.m. He has been remanded in judicial custody and sent to District Jail. Tomorrow, bail application will be moved in the lower court for bail.
In this helpless situation, I appeal to the Youth of our Region to have adoration and intercessory prayers for Divine intervention. May God grant Fr. Dominic and nine other pastors courage and strength to face this trial.
Please pray for all those who are dealing with the case. May they be controlled by the power of Jesus for their release.
United in prayers,
+ Ignatius D Souza
Bishop of Bareilly