Christians allege police high-handedness over arrests

(161225) -- PESHAWAR (PAKISTAN), Dec. 25, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Pakistani Christians attend a Christmas mass in Peshawar, northwestern Pakistan, on Dec. 25, 2016. (Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal)

The Christian community in Agra and Mathura on Sunday alleged police high-handedness over the arrest of seven people in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura district on what it said were “fabricated charges of religious conversion”.

The seven accused, now in judicial custody, were picked up by police from a house in a village after locals complained to the police that “outsiders” were fomenting trouble by resorting to forced conversion.

The charge was denied by the accused, who told the police that it was a private family affair involving relatives. But a local activist alleged that the police came under pressure from “Hindutva groups” to act against the Christians.

Ahead of the Christmas celebrations, the community says this was an attempt to hurt their religious sentiments by rounding up people without any investigation and on flimsy grounds.

“We may have to approach the Chief Justice of India to grant us all anticipatory bail as we may be arrested when we go out singing carols,” said an agitated Christian leader in Mathura not wanting to be identified. “Imagine, in the court some lawyers called us terrorists,” he added.

Groups of lawyers mounted pressure when the bail application came up for hearing on Saturday, forcing adjournment till Tuesday, some lawyers said.

A C Michael, a community leader, told IANS that he had been trying to mobilize support and explain to police officials and also the local minister the real truth of the case. “Of the seven arrested persons, two are Hindus. So how could they be involved in religious conversion? Our community is living in fear in Agra and Mathura, ahead of Xmas.

“But we are lining up support and lawyers and have full faith in our judiciary. It was a family programme. Outsiders were provoked and they interfered, making all kinds of charges,” he added. Christian leaders in Agra have met the parish priests, the Archbishop and other officials of different denominations.

Independent lawyers in Mathura indicated that the court had been virtually forced by the slogan-shouting brigade to postpone the decision till Tuesday. A press conference scheduled for Sunday was called off as some supporters, fearing police action, backed out. A Hindu priest also chickened out, after initially agreeing to come out in their support.

Christian community leaders said their work was confined to providing healthcare and running schools. “Some vested interests are deliberately trying to create differences and tarnish our image,” said one of them who did not want to be identified by name.

The hearing of the bail application of the seven will take place on Tuesday. On Saturday evening, lawyers headed by Mathura Bar Association President Braj Gopal Sharma and Secretary Trilok Chandra Sharma wanted the District Court to be fully satisfied with the sources of funding for “such religious activities”.

The seven accused have been in judicial custody for the past 14 days. Police officer Baij Nath Singh of Surir where the case was registered told IANS: “The seven were taken into custody after some villagers complained about religious conversion in a house.”

According to the complainants, the accused were not only conducting religious ceremonies but also abusing Hindu gods. Hindutva groups said there have been repeated attempts in Mathura, Hathras and Etmadpur areas to bring poor Hindus into Christian fold.

Superintendent of Police Aditya Shukla in Mathura told IANS: “It is entirely up to the court to decide the bail plea and judge the merits of the charges… The police have no role and we should not be accused of acting unfairly.”

In an appeal urging support and prayers for those illegally artrested, AC Michael, said, “Bail application in Mathura case came up on 16th Dec. The other side, which consisted of almost all of the members of Local Bar Association including its President & Secretary asked for more time to submit their intervention. According to them Christians are same as ISIS and are on conversion spree across the country, using foreign money. The DM should investigate the use of this foreign money. Therefore, they want to submit a report on Conversion activities by Christians. Till then they do not want the hearing on this case to take place.

“To that the Judge remarked “Your malafide intention can be seen clearly. Even though the bail application was filed on 7th; till now you have not filed your submission.” He went on to say “If it was your client you would have been prepared to take up the matter on a holiday too.” Since the Court would not be functioningon Sunday and Monday, next date of hearing was fixed for 19th Dec.

“Dr. John Dayal, Advocate Pramod Singh and the undersigned were scheduled to address a press conference in the evening. Since we did not get bail, it was decided to cancel the press conference as the matter was considered sub judice. There are some miss-understandings that the Methodist Church withdrew its premises for the press conference. All Churches and Christians of Mathura City are united and are extending full support. In fact, many were in the court. If the opposition was about 50 in numbers we were about 25 inside the court room. Our lawyers matched their arguments which compelled Judge to be on the right side of law.

“Our lawyers moved an application seeking correction in the previous order dated 12/12/17 to record the presence of our lawyers in court, which judged agreed to take up at next hearing.  We shall keep you updated. Thanks & regards,” wrote AC Michael.

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