15 Indian Christians Arrested During Prayer While Surrounded by Radical Hindu Mob

(Photo: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee)Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold placards during a protest outside a church in New Delhi, India, February 5, 2015.

Persecution watchdog groups are speaking out against the arrest of 15 Christians celebrating New Year's through prayer at a parish in the Indian state of Karnataka, where they were surrounded by a radical Hindu mob.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said that the Christian minority "is vulnerable and subjected to harassment and persecution by both extremist as well as authorities, who are responsible for protecting citizens. Clearly, Christians are considered second-class citizens in secular India."

AsiaNews reported on Monday that the incident occurred at the parish of bannur Jodukatte Puttur on New Year's Eve, where police stormed the Protestant church and arrested the 15 Christian worshipers as a means to "protect" them from a mob of Hindu radicals that had gathered outside.

The Christian celebration had reportedly attracted the attention of two Hindu extremist ultranationalist groups, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who had in mind to raid the church and stop the ceremony, before police intervened.

While the arrested Christians were released a few hours after they were taken to the nearest police station, they were warned against proselytizing, and told that they must always alert the authorities before any prayer services or celebrations.

George spoke out against the intervention by the police, however, noting that the Hindu radicals had escaped arrest themselves. He argued that the police "acted against people who were praying in a private place. The police should have only dispersed the mob that had gathered outside the church."

International Christian Concern noted that Hindu radicals often use anti-forced conversion laws to persecute Christian leaders with false charges against Christians of converting Hindus, leading to arrests and long court cases.

The watchdog group warned that nationwide anti-forced conversion laws, which are being pushed by Hindu nationalists, could lead to even more violence and targeting of Indian Christians, who make up a distinct but rising minority.

At the same time, reports have warned that the free practice of Christianity is not only being restrained in a number of villages, but that Christians are sometimes pressured to reconvert to Hinduism.

ICC started a petition calling for local authorities in over 50 villages in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh State to stop targeting Christians and charging them with crimes where there is little or no evidence that they have committed said crimes.

"Today, we are joining our voice with our Indian brothers and sisters in Christ to call on the Prime Minister of India to specifically address the banning of Christianity. We believe in a society which touts religious tolerance and freedom. No one should be banned from practicing their faith freely. Sign our petition and let Christians in India know they are not alone in this fight," the group said in a statement in December.