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Indian pastor arrested over conversion of Muslims

Country/Region: South and East Asia, India

An Indian pastor who baptised converts from Islam was arrested and his church raided following a sharia court hearing.

Rev. Chander Mani Khanna was called by the Grand Mufti of Kashmir to a sharia court on 8 November to explain alleged forced conversions of young Muslims, after a video appeared on YouTube that shows the pastor baptising seven adult converts from Islam. He was accused of converting Muslims in exchange for money.

Srinagar_Kashmir_4X3.jpg
Srinagar, Kashmir, where Rev. Chander Mani Khanna was arrested
CC BY-ND 2.0 / Een Ar

Muslims responded angrily to the footage, threatening to burn Mr Khanna to death, kill all Christian missionaries and burn their buildings, schools and churches.

Amid concerns for the pastor’s safety following the sharia court hearing, the police initially asked him not to move from his home in Srinagar, saying that they were protecting him. But they then raided his church and arrested him on charges of fomenting communal strife. He was released on bail after spending ten days in police custody. 

The seven men and women who were baptised by Mr Khanna were also arrested and allegedly beaten by police in a bid to get them to testify against him.

Kashmir’s Grand Mufti, Mohammed Bashiruddin, warned that Mr Khanna’s activities “warrant action as per Islamic law” and will not be tolerated. He told the media:

There will be serious consequences of this. We will implement our part and the government should implement its.

Following Mr Khanna’s arrest, Indian Christian leaders have questioned why the authorities are siding with the sharia court in a country with a secular constitution, which guarantees all citizens the “right freely to profess, practice and propagate [their] religion”.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said:

Allowing a Sharia Court to enforce its laws on Christians represents an end to the rule of law and equality of Indian citizens.

While a number of Indian states have introduced “anti-conversion laws”, Jammu and Kashmir is not one of them.

Mr Khanna was instead arrested under Articles 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.

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