UK-based religious freedom advocacy Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called for the release of four Christians who were arrested in the Indian state of Jharkhand in late May on anti-conversion charges.
CSW says local sources have informed them that charges against the four – arrested on 29th May – were false and stemmed out of opposition to the scheduled marriage of two of the accused on 30th May.
After villagers expressed their opposition to the slated Christian ceremony which was to be held in the village of Podkher, CSW says the Christian couple – Sumanti Kumari and Rupash Manjhi – sought help at the local police station. Villagers brought the girl’s father to the police and then alleged the couple had tried to forcibly convert him. The couple’s pastor was then summoned and charges subsequently laid against the pastor, his assistant and the couple, according to CSW.
The four Christians have now been remanded in prison.
CSW says it is the first reported arrest under Jharkhand’s ‘Freedom of Religion Law’ which came into force on 11th September last year. Jharkhand is the seventh Indian state to introduce such legislation.
Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, said India’s freedom of religion laws – including that in Jharkhand state – “do not uphold freedom of religion or belief”.
“By criminalising conversion, they impinge on individual choice,” he said. “This contravenes the right to freedom of religion or belief as articulated in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is signatory.
“We call on the government to drop the charges against these Christians and repeal this legislation which gives the authorities arbitrary powers to investigate religious conversions and is being misused. We also call on law enforcement agencies in Jharkhand to discharge their duties without bias.”