(World Watch Monitor) Jakarta’s former governor, known as “Ahok”, who was sentenced last year to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam, is to be released from prison next month, four months ahead of schedule.
The ethnic Chinese Christian, whose real name is Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was due to be released in May but has been granted early release, scheduled for 24 January, for good behaviour, according to Sri Puguh Budi Utami, Director General for Prison Affairs, as reported by AsiaNews.
Ahok had refused parole in July as he hoped for early release after serving almost two-thirds of his sentence.
Ahok, the first Christian and ethnic Chinese to govern Indonesia’s capital since the 1960s, was charged with blasphemy in December 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Quranic verses to dissuade Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta governor.
In April last year, one day after he lost the election to his Muslim contender, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him and recommended he serve no prison time if found guilty. They suggested two years’ probation with a possible one-year jail term if he committed a crime during that period. The judge, however, decided a harsher punishment was called for, telling the court: “Mr. Purnama was found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment.”
His sentence received widespread condemnation globally as politicians, academics and rights groups expressed their concerns about the growing threat to religious pluralism in Indonesia.
During the trial, Ahok’s supporters clashed repeatedly with extremist Islamist groups and it was for this reason that the former governor initially decided not to appeal his sentence – “for the sake of our people and nation”.
Politics and fake news
However in February Ahok filed an appealafter a court found a communications professor from Jakarta, Buni Yani, guilty of hate speech for editing the viral video that formed the basis for the allegations against Ahok. But the Supreme Court rejected Ahok’s appeal.
Before Ahok’s trial, in November 2016, Catholic news agency UCAN reported that according to Syafi’i Ma’arif, the former chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic group in Indonesia, there was “no blasphemy” in Yani’s video, and the charges against the Christian governor had been fabricated for political purposes.
During his trial, Ahok told the court he had been the target of racist and religious attacks since he was elected to public office in 2005.
In March it was reported that Ahok may also have been a victim of a sophisticated anti-government campaign of “fake news” and malicious bots. An online jihadist network known as the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA) posted “inflammatory content and messages designed to amplify social and religious division, and push a hardline Islamist and anti-government line”, authorities said.
An Indonesian musician is currently facing a two-year prison sentence for allegedly committing hate speech against Ahok during his bid for re-election in 2017, as World Watch Monitor reported.
Earlier this year, Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission announced plans to publish guidelines to avoid sectarian clashes in the run-up to next year’s national elections as some hard-line Islamic leaders had called on Indonesians to vote only for Muslim candidates.
(Voice of the Persecuted) The November 27, 2018 appeal hearing of Sawan Masih, a Pakistani Christian accused and sentenced to death for blasphemy, was postponed. Nasir Saeed, a spokesperson from CLAAS, Sawans’s defense counsel, told Voice of the Persecuted that they have yet to receive a rescheduled hearing date. It’s possible that the court avoided conducting the hearing deliberately because of the present situation in the country after Asia Bibi’s acquittal, he added.
Sawan is at the center of a case that caused a mob of 3000 Muslim men to attack the Joseph Colony of Lahore, Pakistan in March of 2013. (View report and photos) After a local mosque announced the blasphemy charge over loudspeakers, the vigilantes stormed the Christian community where Masih lived. They burned or ransacked 180 Christian homes, 75 shops and at least two churches during the attack. Mob members threatened to burn the Christians alive if they tried to defend or hide in their homes. Hundreds of families were forced to flee for their lives as the angry mob destroyed their village.
Masih was accused by his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran. A local bishop said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between the two men than blasphemy. He claimed the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback. Some claimed that Sawan was ‘winning’ their argument. They believe a Christian having the upper hand incensed Shahid Imran to falsely accuse Masih. Please keep praying for Masih and other victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
PAKISTAN: Prayers are needed for Sawan Masih who has been on death row for blasphemy since 2014. Masih was accused by his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran, of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in 2013. A case was registered against him under section 295-C of the Blasphemy Law which has a mandatory death penalty. Masih says the charge is false.
His case became internationally known when a large Muslim mob violently attacked Masih’s residential area, Joseph Colony, in Badami Bagh Lahore. The local mosque broadcasted the accusation via loudspeakers and a mob of more than 3,000 Muslims attacked Sawan’s home, looted and torched 180 Christian homes, 75 shops and at least two churches. Witnesses say the police stood and watched instead of stopping the attackers and protecting local Christians and their property.
Hundreds of families were displaced as the mob threatened to burn Christians alive in their homes unless they left. Sawan Masih was handed over to the police and has remained in custody ever since. See our March 2013 report and photos of the violent mob attack
On March 27, 2014 the Lower Court sentenced Masih to death for committing blasphemy. Soon after this verdict CLAAS filed an appeal against the conviction in the Lahore High Court, which is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, November 27, 2018.
Sawan Masih’s wife and three children are very concerned and living in fear. CLAAS is providing free legal aid to Sawan Masih. Prayers have been requested and considered crucial for his safety and release.
Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK said, “This is a very unfortunate situation as although Asia Bibi was acquitted on October 31 by the Pakistan Supreme Court, she is not allowed to leave Pakistan despite several western countries being willing to accept her and her family.”
He added, “This is because the leader of the Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan has threatened the government, saying if she leaves the country, there will be war. Unfortunately for the last several decades, Islamist groups in Pakistan have become more powerful than the state. Now the situation is that everyone, whether it is the prime minister or the chief justice of Pakistan, they have to proclaim publicly that they equally love the prophet and would sacrifice their life for the prophet.
A review petition and separately a petition to add her name in the exit control list (ECL) has been filed in the supreme court and keeping in view the present situation I don’t think the review petition will be heard very soon.”
Mr Saeed also said, “Pakistan’s President Dr Arif Alvi’s statement that the government will not amend the blasphemy law is not very encouraging as we all know the blasphemy law is often used by Muslims to settle personal grudges and scores against their rivals, and Christians are the main target. He said the blasphemy law needs change to stop its continuous misuse and the international community needs to remind Pakistan of this regularly.”
Police detained radical Islamic cleric and (TLP) chief, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who led protests that brought daily life to a halt following the Supreme Court acquittal of Asia Bibi. On Friday, authorities began a nationwide crackdown and arrested over 1000 leaders and supporters of the Islamist party. The cleric’s arrest ignited violent clashes with police and several people were injured. A majority of the arrests took place in the province of Punjab, headquarters of the extremist Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party. They alleged the crackdown against the party and its leadership was to prevent them from protesting the acquittal.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry dismissed those claims. He explained that Rizvi had been placed under “protective custody” because he refused to withdraw a fresh call for street protests on Sunday and turned down offers to organize the rally at a place proposed by the government. “It’s to safeguard public life, property and order and has to do nothing with Asia Bibi case.” The minister called for the public to remain “peaceful and calm and “the law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals.”
The charity Aid to the Church in Need stays in contact with Asia’s family. The charity spokesman, John Pontifex , relayed that the situation is constantly changing. In a recent conversation, the family told him that people were going door-to-door showing their pictures and asking if people had seen them.
Asia is currently in protective custody, pending an appeal lodged by the religious extremist TLP party against her acquittal.
Eisham Ashiq spoke publicly for the first time from a safe house in Pakistan since her mother was acquitted of blasphemy. Please keep Asia, her family, Christians in Pakistan and the nation in your prayers.
Informed sources reported to Mohabat News that “Behnam Ersali, a Christian convert living in Karaj, traveled to Mashhad and was arrested by security guards at a friend’s home on Friday, November 16, 2018 and taken unknown location.
Six plain-clothed security officers entered the house without a legal decree and arrested him along with the another person. The second was released a few hours later.
Behnam Ersali, was a former member of the Assemblies of God church in Tehran. Mohabat New also reported that several years ago Ersali had been fired from his job because of his Christian faith.
Davood Rasooli, known among the believers as “David”, was also arrested on Friday by two plain-clothes officers on in front of his home in Karaj. He too was transferred to an unknown location. Informed sources, quoted by the Christian convert’s family, say that the officers returned to the house two hours later with Rasooli. They searched his home and confiscated some of his books and personal belongings.
MEC reported that Rasooli had planned to meet Ersali in Mashhad that same day. It’s believed that Iranian intelligence had intercepted their calls and learned of the arrangement.
Since the arrest of these two Christian converts there has been no contact with their family members. Mohabat news shared that no information is yet available on the cause of their detention or where they are kept. According to MEC, friends of Rasooli believe that he is in solitary confinement and undergoing interrogation in Rajai Shahr Prison.
Mohabat news shared that reports indicate Iran’s intelligent agencies have summoned and arrested a number of believers in the northern cities of the country. There are still no details on this issue, but it is said that some of them were released on their recognizance’s.
The Islamic Republic is under international pressures, and government officials are at an impasse, but they continue to harass religious and ethnic minorities without any understanding of their own conditions. It seems that there is a new wave of arrest and pressure against Christians.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has recently adopted a resolution indicating the increase in the number of executions, especially executions of criminals under the age of 18, violations of the right to freedom of expression and violations of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, repression of protesters and journalists, torture and ill-treatment in prisons, detention and the condemnation of dual nationality and the violation of women’s rights in Iran, and that the human rights situation has become worse in Iran. However, Iran’s President, Hassan Rowhani, has claimed that he intends to improve the situation of religious and ethnic minorities./FARSI
Where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were preserved in the midst of a blazing furnace fire in the presence of the Lord. A land where God saved Daniel when he sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions. Today, this same land has one of the fastest growing number of Christians in the world—second only to China. Please keep our Iranian brothers and sisters in your prayers.
India (Morning Star News) – Five families in eastern India were at a worship service last month when they received a phone call telling them to return to their homes immediately.
The Christians rushed nearly four miles from their church in Lisiya village to their homes in Durula, West Singhbhum District in Jharkhand state, where they found the shanty of one of the families in ruins. Villagers under the influence of tribal movement Adivasi Ho Samaj had left the home of Sidiu Bari and his family in shambles.
Members of the Adivasi Ho Samaj, which in turn had come under the influence of Hindu extremists to join forces against the spread of Christianity, persuaded villagers that they must drive the five Christian families out, area resident Subod Sinku told Morning Star News.
“They damaged Bari’s roof, threw away their clothes and utensils and took away a sum of 20,500 rupees [US$280],” Sinku said. “Even after all this, they were not done. There was lot of verbal abuse and verbal grilling that continued for at least a week after the [Oct. 18] incident.”
Threatened with expulsion from the village and with seizure of their farmland, three of the five families converted back to the tribal religion, Sarnaism, he said.
“Pastors and Christians from Lisiya and surrounding village churches tried to encourage them to continue in the Christian faith in these testing times,” Sinku said. “But we were only able to get Sidiu Bari to write a complaint and report the matter to a local police station.”
Police advised against filing a First Information Report (FIR), telling the Christians to try to settle the matter “amicably,” he said.
Another source said on condition of anonymity, “The situation in Jharkhand is turning worse since the Ho Samaj joined hands with the RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], holding meetings to instigate the tribal population against their own brethren for choosing to follow Christ.”
Sinku, 25, said that in his home village of Deoghar District, his family has warned him that he will be thrown out of his parents’ home and will not receive his share of land if he continues in his Christian faith.
“Putting faith in Christ is a matter of heart, and gradually as a new convert from the Adivasi religion grows in fellowship with other Christians, one’s entire lifestyle gets transformed,” Sinku said. “You learn many things. You become particular about hygiene, your intake of food, dressing, and you are not afraid to move to the city for education and get a job. This is not how indigenous tribes live. And, they think that we can afford the clothes, food and education from the supposed amount we received because of conversion to Christianity. It is completely false.”
Church Building Converted
In Ranchi District on Oct. 20, Sarna members broke a lock and barged into a church building while Christians were away attending a burial service of a young female member at another site, area residents said.
In the absence of anyone at the church building in Garh Khatanga, Hindu and tribal religion extremists surrounded the structure. Outside elements had instigated the villagers, who joined the extremists in breaking a cross on the building and chanting slogans against Christianity, Pastor Amandeep Bodra told Morning Star News.
Church members heard about the attack but, occupied with comforting family members who had lost a child, they decided not to try to stop them and thus avoided a fight, the pastor said. The next day they reported it to police, who have taken no action, he said.
“The Sarna activists had removed the cross and had set up a signboard saying, ‘Sarna Bhavan[Sarna Complex],’ and the police tell us to compromise with them,” he said.
The church purchased land and constructed its building on it about six months ago, and no one objected, he said. The now 70-member church had begun meeting in 2014.
The tribal animists have put their own lock on the building, which they have not been using, and they do not let the church use it, the pastor said.
“If we also break open the land and claim it back, the situation will get worse,” he said. “Police will not wait long to book severe cases against us, and there will be physical violence against us.”
Church leaders told the village president that they are willing to forfeit the land and requested the official show them another plot for construction of a church building, Pastor Bodra said. They have not heard back from him and are worshipping in a congregation member’s home.
In Surlu village, dozens of RSS members and tribal animists on Oct. 5 met to plan how to punish villagers for becoming Christians.
“The village president agreed to the propaganda put forth by them,” said area resident Nirmal Boraiburu. “Their plans were very harmful. They decided that Christians should not be allowed to go into the open fields to answer the call of nature. How can a human survive in such conditions?”
The Hindu extremists and Adivasis later told the Christians that they can farm their fields, but that they cannot pass through others’ fields to get to their own, Boraiburu said.
“Which means there will not be a path for us to walk to our field,” he said. “How can we plough or grow a crop when we can’t even enter the field? The entire village joined hands against us that nobody would give us work. But what prompted us to vacate the village was that some women made an announcement that now that these Adivasis have converted to Christians, they are no longer our tribe’s, and that Adivasi men are free to rape Christian women.”
The Christians have fled to Odisha state, Boraiburu said
“The pastor and believers here helped us build some huts to take shelter,” he said. “There in Surlu, women are usually alone at home after men go to work; it is not safe anymore. My two sisters are pursuing their studies, and dad works, in Chaibasa District. I left the property and everything in Surlu for their safety.”
As a handful of Christians among the majority Sarna adherents, they would have risked provoking the entire Adivasi community against them by reporting them to police, he said.
Earlier in Bokaro District, Hindu extremists used an elderly, bed-ridden man to give a false police statement of forcible conversion against Christians, sources said.
The ordeal began when pastor Sikandar Ravidas received a phone call from a police inspector telling him to bring documents related to church construction, on the request of revenue authorities.
Pastor Ravidas went to the police station near Lal Mithiya village, along with his father, Mahabir Das, and Binod Ravidas. There the inspector insisted they go with him to Chandrapura police station, said the pastor’s uncle, Manoj Ravidas.
“We received a phone call after he was taken into custody in Chandrapura,” Manoj Ravidas said. “He called us saying to pick up the documents, as they are being sent to jail the next day. After reaching the police station, we learned that police wanted to frame Binod Ravidas, former president of Lal Mithiya, in a case.”
A village official who is a staunch supporter of the RSS and the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party used the elderly Mani Ravidas to give a false statement to police that Christians were involved in forced in conversions, Manoj Ravidas told Morning Star News.
“The complainant, Mani Ravidas, is a bed-ridden old man,” he said, adding that the official obtained his thumb prints to sign an FIR against Binod Ravidas. “He brought the pastor into picture to make the case stronger under the state’s anti-conversion laws.”
Eight Christians, including the pastor, Ajay Ravidas, Lakhi Devi, Hiralal Shaw, Motilal Shaw, Robert Edward, were booked on Sept. 26 under Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for wounding religious feelings, and under Section 4 of Jharkhand’s “Freedom of Religion Act” (anti-conversion law). Under the law, forcible conversion can be punished with up to four years of prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$1,370).
“Pastor Ravidas’ wife and their 3-year-old are now under the protection of believers in Lal Mithiya village,” Manoj Ravidas said. “Even their own relatives can’t meet her or provide any sort of help as, the official might plot against them as well. He has a criminal history.”
Ajay Ravidas was taken into custody after he tried to report Hindu extremists chasing him on motorbikes, Manoj Ravidas said.
“He went to the police station to report against the bikers, but police arrested him instead,” Manoj Ravidas said. “He discovered in the police station that he also has been booked in the same FIR filed on Sept. 26.”
The initial judge and an additional district judge have rejected bail petitions.
“We are urging the church members to be united and strong, but they are very upset that the pastor has been in jail for more than 40 days now,” he said.
The coordinator of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India’s Jharkhand unit, Sandeep Tigga, said it is sad that lower courts refuse to take cases booked under the anti-conversion law, so the file gets passed to appellate courts, where matters remain in litigation for so long.
“Christians avoid taking legal course of action in most cases as they fear revenge attacks from extremist groups,” Tigga added. “Most of the Christian youth are the first generation getting into education, and they don’t want court cases to be an impediment to their studies, and even if they take a courageous step to report, police advise them to settle with the help of a village council.”
ADF-India organizes sessions for pastors, youth leaders and Christians in Jharkhand to make them aware of their rights and provisions in the law, Tigga said. ADF undertakes legal advocacy for religious freedom in several countries.
The group notes in its campaign celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it is sadly ironic that Christians are persecuted in India, a country with a long tradition and legal framework of freedom of religion. Article 18 of the U.N. declaration asserts that believers have the freedom to practice their faith “in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” ADF notes in its campaign to obtain signatures supporting the Geneva Statement on Human Rights at www.ImHumanRight.org.
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
(Voice of the Persecuted) Speaking at a church during a prayer service for Asia Bibi in the Netherlands, her lawyer, Saif-ul-Mulook, described his last visit with her at the Multan women’s prison on Oct. 10th, 2018. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had just heard her death sentence appeal but the judges delayed the announcement of ruling in Bibi’s case. Saif-ul-Malook said he was amazed by her wonderful mood, how happy she was and that she showed no signs of depression. Asia shared with him about a dream she had two days earlier (Oct. 8th), the same day the court hearing was taking place.
“Sir, I saw in the dream that all the prison doors were opened and I worried the if the jail superintendent comes, then she’ll be very furious. Sir from my dream, I’m very, very certain that my appeal is going to be accepted and I’m going to be free. I have such a firm faith in God that I have strong feeling that nobody can hurt me.”
Then she told him not to worry for he too would be provided the same protection.
He announced at the church service, “I have never seen a stronger woman in my life, or read in any book story. Who is behind the bars for more than 9 nine years leaving behind two daughters, one [with mental disabilities] and still, to be so strong. I tell her many times, if I was in prison in your place, I could have broken in 6 months and might have decided to commit suicide.”
Mulook, who is also a Muslim, could also be called one of the bravest of Pakistani men. Prior to taking Asia’s case, Mulook’s was targeted when he was the special prosecutor in the high-profile murder case of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. The governor was shot and killed by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in 2011. Qadri killed Taseer over his call for blasphemy law reform and his support of Asia Bibi. Islamists called Qadri a hero. Mulook was the only lawyer willing to prosecute the former police bodyguard who was convicted and sentenced to death by execution. Tens of thousands called for Bibi’s death when Qadri was sentenced, then again after his execution. Many were to fearful to take Asia as their client. When Mulook chose to defend her, other attorney’s told him, “You have hammered the last nail into your coffin”. His colleagues and even friends shunned him. “We don’t go out to meet relatives or friends. They don’t come here to meet us.”he told the AFP.
Already condemned when he successfully prosecuted Qadri, he thought it cowardly to give up on Asia. “I said to myself, look, you have already done the damage. It is time to stand up for this poor woman.”
Due to recent death threats, Saif-ul-Malook fled to the Netherlands. The Dutch Foreign Ministry made an official offer to him to join a special program for the human rights activists under pressure in their home countries. Reports claim the Pakistani attorney has not yet filed an asylum application to stay permanently in the country.
Asia and her family were taken to an undisclosed location and under the protection of police and Pakistan’s military. Multiple countries have offered asylum to Asia. However, her husband had requested for asylum in Canada, the U.K. or the USA.
Today, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed to the AFP that his government was in discussions with Pakistan about granting her asylum and bringing her to Canada.
“There is a delicate domestic context that we respect which is why I don’t want to say any more about that, but I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country,” Trudeau said.
Canada’s opposition Conservative Party supports this decision and has urged Mr Trudeau to “use every mechanism at his disposal to offer the Bibi family asylum”.
It was a joy to hear this news as we prayed for Trudeau and his government on yesterday’s Prayer Conference Call event. We also prayed for the continuation of persecuted Christians to be granted asylum in the country. We’d like to recognize Canada for welcoming many of these Christians in the last decade, and to acknowledge the Canadian churches along with their members who have stepped up to sponsor these families. May the Lord continue to bless them.
Video of Saif-ul-Malook at prayer service shared on the social media service Facebook.
“Incidents of violence and hate targeting Christians have risen to a never-before level in Uttar Pradesh,”
(Morning Star News) – Attacks on Christians that began in one area of Uttar Pradesh in July have spiked and spread, instilling fear in congregations throughout the state, sources said.
After several attacks in Jaunpur District in July, by the end of October persecution of Christians had spread to 32 of Uttar Pradesh’s 75 districts, rights activist Dinanath Jaiswar told Morning Star News, with some of those districts seeing assaults earlier in the year.
“Jaunpur District has emerged as the epicenter of violence against the Christian community,” Jaiswar said. “The frequency and intensity of the incidents took us by surprise. There were days when at least two or three incidents would be reported from different parts of Uttar Pradesh, and we would struggle on how to provide help to hapless Christians.”
Many pastors went into hiding since July, though in many cases their congregations were able to keep meeting, and all of the church leaders have since returned home, sources said.
“Many a time we have had to divide our team or call more people, just so we could stand with the people who were being targeted and arbitrate with the authorities for their release,” Jaiswar said.
“There is a sense of fear in the atmosphere,” a Christian leader said. “Which church would be attacked, and when, is a constant threat in the hearts of the pastors of Uttar Pradesh.”
Persecution of Christians in Jaunpur District spread like wildfire to nearby districts, making Uttar Pradesh the state with the most violence against Christians since January, rights activists said.
“Incidents of violence and hate targeting Christians have risen to a never-before level in Uttar Pradesh,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) and national director of EFI’s Religious Liberty Commission. “Whereas there were 50 incidents that were documented in the state of Uttar Pradesh last year as a whole, this year till [the end of] October we have already documented 64 incidents.”
September and October were among the worst months for aggression against Christians in the state, he said. EFI-RLC recorded 28 cases in September and 16 in October in Uttar Pradesh.
Since January, violence has broken out against Christians in districts of Azamgarh, Gorakhpur, Ghazipur, Kaushambi, Allahabad, Bareilly, Meerut, Agra, Lucknow, Mahoba, Mau, Pratapgarh, Varanasi, Kannauj, Pilibhit, Ghaziabad, Muzzafarnagar, Lakhimpur, Fatehpur, Raebareli, Sitapur, Meerut, Mirzapur, Hapur, Barabanki, Siddharth Nagar, Kanpur, Khushinagar, Gautam Budh Nagar and Kannauj, along with Jaunpur.
“It is a fact that the Christians living in the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh, are facing heightened fear of threat to their lives for practicing their faith,” said A.C. Michael, national coordinator of minority affairs for the All India Catholic Union (AICU).
Pastors were routinely taken into police custody based on false allegations of forceful religious conversion, he said.
“In one such case, on Sept. 13, a Christian who was leading a prayer meeting was beaten up and warned of severe consequences if he continued to pray,” Michael said. “Christians in Jaunpur are in great fear of being attacked and are not even conducting prayers in their own homes.”
Police deliberately approached pastors’ homes late at night to harass them and their families, said a source who requested anonymity.
“Picking up pastors and Christian leaders after midnight, keeping them in police custody for 24 hours, is a technique to mentally harass them and to instill fear in them,” the source told Morning Star News.
Attacks on Christians in India have risen from 150-plus in 2014 to more than 250 already in 2018, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which undertakes legal advocacy for religious freedom.
“What should worry the Christian community, especially its leadership, is that out of three democratic pillars of India, both government and media are ignoring these seemingly systematic attacks on Christians,” an ADF press statement reads.
The third pillar, the judiciary, has more than 200 cases of false allegations of forcible conversion pending in various courts of India, including the Supreme Court, it adds.
The Hindu extremist targeting of churches started from the Bhulandih village, Jaunpur District, where pastor Durga Prasad Yadav leads the Jeevan Jyoti Satsang Prarthana Kendra (Light of Life Fellowship Prayer Centre).
Police also targeted Pastor Yadav, summoning and beating him in June. Between 7,000 to 8,000 people regularly attend his church services, according to reports.
On July 20, news portal jantakiawaz.org reported in Hindi that 95 percent of households in a Jaunpur village had become Christian. A subtitle read, “Christian missionaries running their campaign quietly but effectively. Conversions happening in the name of prayer…”
The portal updated the content the next day, and national Hindi newspaper Dainik Jaagran and other portals carried the same news.
On Aug. 3, an Additional Civil Judge in Pancham ordered registration of a complaint against Pastor Yadav and 270 other Christians. For Sunday services on Aug. 5, police provided protection from Hindu threats on his church at the pastor’s request.
Police on Sept. 5 registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Pastor Yadav and the 270 others based on the complaint by attorney Brijesh Singh. Christian leaders said that the police started to visit many area churches, questioning pastors, other Christians and whoever they could find on church premises.
Sources indicated that police began the harassment only after state officials became involved. Superiors at the Chandwak police station even removed a police officer, Shashi Chandra Chaudhry, from the Bhulandih village case for failing to act against Pastor Yadav and other Christians, according to local news outlets.
Meantime, news channels led by Zee TV created a furor with nearly 24-hour reporting on alleged forcible conversions in the Jaunpur area on Sept. 10-11. Christian leaders have slammed the coverage by Zee TV as inflammatory.
Between Sept. 11 and the end of the month, police arrested and detained many pastors, disrupted worship services and told people to go home and not attend anymore.
At the same time, Hindu extremists were targeting churches throughout the region, disrupting services and attacking Christians not only in Jaunpur but also other districts in Uttar Pradesh. Many pastors began to go into hiding.
Police Prohibit Services, Attendance
There are at least 10 megachurches in Jaunpur District alone, with about 25,000 people attending worship services, sources said.
“About six megachurches that were targeted by the police in Jaunpur are permanently closed since the initial attack,” rights activist Jaiswar said. “They have been asked to obtain permission from the district magistrate or High Court to resume church services.”
Pastors who had been in hiding since the attacks in September have all returned home, he said.
The largest megachurch, with 7,000 members, is that of Pastor Durga Prasad Yadav in Bhulandih village, Jaunpur, which has been shut down.
“I have not conducted church for two months now,” Pastor Yadav said. “Police are guarding our worship places morning and evening to stop any believer from coming to church. The situation here is very tense.”
Police issued an arrest warrant against Pastor Yadav, but he secured a stay order against it from the High Court on Oct. 10. He said he is desperately waiting for justice and permission for his church to resume services.
Hindu extremists on Sept. 23 attacked pastor Ashok Rajbhar, who leads a church of about 2,000 members in Nevadiya village, Jaunpur District. Though police have not registered a case against him, officers stopped worshippers from reaching church services on four consecutive Sundays, sources said.
For the next two Sundays, police arrested and locked up Pastor Rajbhar and his father to keep them from leading services, they said. His church is completely shut down.
Police on Sept. 24 arrested pastor Nanhe Lal of Jaunpur. Though they did not register a case against him, officers obtained a pledge in writing from him that he would not lead services until he obtains permission from the district magistrate or High Court.
Police secured the same pledge in writing from Pastor Ram Asre of Badlapur, Jaunpur District, threatening to arrest him if he led worship for his 1,000-member church. Pastor Ram Bachan received several threats before police booked him under various charges alleging forceful conversion. He obtained bail on Oct. 30, but his 500-member church has shut down.
Police also have registered a case against pastor Ram Kumar of Pratapgarh District on various charges. He has filed for a stay against the FIR in the Lucknow High Court, but his church has closed.
After these churches were forced to shut down, the members began meeting in small groups in their homes. Sources said police patrolled outside their homes and stopped them from meeting.
Christian leaders said that all churches in Uttar Pradesh are stricken with fear from reports every day of attacks on churches.
“The Christian community in Uttar Pradesh is under duress, and there is a sense of fear in the atmosphere,” a Christian leader from Uttar Pradesh told Morning Star News. “Which church would be attacked, and when, is a constant threat in the hearts of the pastors of Uttar Pradesh.”
ADF notes in its campaign celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it is sadly ironic that Christians are persecuted in India, a country with a long tradition and legal framework of freedom of religion.
Article 18 of the U.N. declaration asserts that believers have the freedom to practice their faith “in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” ADF notes in its campaign to obtain signatures supporting the Geneva Statement on Human Rights at www.ImHumanRight.org.
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.