A church in Odisha state, eastern India, has been sealed with a ban imposed on gathering for worship.
The local administration placed the restraining order on Believers Church, Geltua village in Bhadrak district on 17 May. District officials said they based their decision on complaints received that tribal people were converted to Christianity through “allurement”.
Christians have contested the decision, which forbids gatherings for Sunday worship for the 100-strong congregation and decrees that a maximum of three persons may assemble outside near the church building.
Pratap Chhinchani, a lawyer representing the church, criticised the decision as arbitrary and the allegation as unsubstantiated, saying, “Worship was held in the church for many years but nobody was converted as is being alleged.”
He added that extremists had deliberately disrupted church meetings. Christians in Geltua lodged complaints with the local police asking for protection from such disturbances, but their requests were not acted upon. Instead of pursuing the complaints, the district administration issued the notice of closure to the church’s pastor on the grounds of ensuring law and order.
Chhinchani announced his intention to challenge the decision in a higher court.
Odisha was the first Indian state to enact an anti-conversion law in 1967, outlawing conversions secured by force, fraud or allurement. The state has been the scene of ongoing persecution of Christians, most notably in 2008 when around 90 Christians were killed in violent attacks by extremists, and more than 56,000 were left homeless as houses were looted and burned.
In 2021, in separate incidents, 12 Christian families were evicted from their villages in Odisha by extremists objecting to their conversion to Christianity.