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Pastor Balu Saste

Decisive victory for victims of religious persecution in India

What was at stake?

The right to freedom of religion and the safety of religious minorities in India.


A pastor of a small Indian village in Madhya Pradesh was acquitted of the charges laid against him under disputed anti-conversion laws. In 2016, Pastor Balu, his wife, his son, and members of his congregation were violently attacked, later detained by the police and falsely accused of forcing conversions to Christianity. The landmark ruling marked an important victory against India’s anti-conversion laws, which increasingly threaten the fundamental rights of religious minorities.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. The acquittal of Pastor Balu and his family is a vital step towards the protection of religious freedom and the right to freely live out one’s faith. Now he can continue to tend to his small community of Christians without interference from the state. Unfortunately, this is not the only case in India where Christians have been falsely accused under anti-conversion laws. These laws make religious minorities subject to arbitrary imprisonments and criminal charges, mob violence, and violations of their fundamental rights,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia.

Steady rise in violence against Christians in India

In 2016, a group of nationalists stormed Pastor Balu’s church during a service beating and harassing worshipers. The police came and arrested Pastor Balu, his wife, and his six-year-old son, stripped them of their clothes, beat them, and kept them detained without bail for three days, as Mrs Saste re-counted in this video interview. They were convicted of forced conversions. But the court acquitted them of the charges held against them.


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In 2019, violence against Christians rose significantly. The attacks often take a similar shape and rarely receive any police attention. A mob will arrive at a prayer meeting or Christian gathering, shout abuse and harassment, and beat up those in attendance including women and children. Then, as in the case of Pastor Balu, the pastors or priests are usually arrested by the police under false allegations of forced conversions.

Protecting the fundamental rights of religious minorities

Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, said, “The case of Pastor Balu provides a telling example of the injustices faced by many Christians in India. The important ruling in his case shows that the fundamental rights of religious minorities can and should be protected in the courtroom and through effective legal advocacy. Sadly, the violence and mob attacks are not isolated incidents but testify to what many Christians experience in India today. All people have the right to freely choose, and live out their faith. We urge the Indian government to uphold this right and do more to protect religious minorities and promote religious freedom.”

India has entered the top ten of the world watch list for the persecution of Christians. This persecution stems from a recent growth in nationalism.

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Should religious freedom be protected in times of crisis?

“I support freedom of religious belief as a basic human right that deserves the highest level of protection.

I stand up against worship bans which are illiberal and non-democratic. Blanket bans on public worship are incompatible with the international human right to the communal exercise of religious freedom. Fundamental freedoms apply to all, and they must be protected rather than weakened in times of crisis.”