This week, Pastor Keshab Raj Acharya was released on bail after being convicted and jailed for sharing gospel tracts and praying with fellow citizens.
Pastor jailed after false “forced conversion” allegations
Topic | Persecution
“All we wanted to do was pray together among brothers and sisters. I never imagined I would be imprisoned, let alone for having done nothing wrong. I know there are many others who have been arrested because of similar false accusations. Hopefully, people will become aware of the injustice of these baseless proceedings and call for the repeal of these laws that are being misused to target religious minorities, “ says Pastor Premnath*.
Pastor Premnath is one of an increasing number of Christians who have been put on trial or imprisoned after being accused of engaging in forced conversions in India. ADF International Allied Lawyers in India are seeking to defend Pastor Premnath and others at court to protect the religious freedom of minorities.
High Court of Allahabad, India
Tehmina Arora, Sumit Kumar, Allied Attorney, ADF International
On 31 August 2021, Pastor Premnath was leading a Christian fellowship meeting at a friend’s house in Uttar Pradesh, India. Unbeknownst to him, a group of religious extremists accompanied by police in plain clothes had infiltrated the meeting. Claiming they wanted to learn about Jesus Christ, they observed the prayer meeting, then left before it was concluded. A couple of minutes later, the group returned with 5 police constables. They harassed those gathered for prayer and arrested the pastor accusing him of having engaged in forced conversions.
Pastor Premnath spent 150 days in jail until he was granted bail on 28 January 2022 thanks to the support of ADF International’s allied lawyers. In its bail ruling the High Court of Allahabad stated that Pastor Premnath had no criminal record, nothing incriminating had been recovered from him, and no one had provided a complaint to the court that they had been influenced or pressured to convert by the pastor. The baseless criminal trial has now commenced against Pastor Premnath. A hearing of the prosecution’s witnesses will be held on 1 August 2022.
Four countries in South and Southeast Asia—India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Bhutan—have laws that severely regulate religious conversion. Government officials and the police, in line with increasingly nationalist politicians and lawmakers, selectively enforce these laws, effectively banning conversion from the majority religion to a minority religion, in particular Christianity and Islam.
*name changed for security
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On Tuesday, Pastor Keshab was sentenced to two years in jail and a fine for sharing gospel tracts and praying with fellow citizens.