At least 10 pastors were arrested with their families last Sunday as they worshiped in church services across the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a leading persecution watchdog has reported.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a United Nations' accredited NGO that serves in over 20 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, reports that authorities in the state have continued their crackdowns on Christians this week.
In addition to the 10 pastors and families, police are said to have also arrested three more believers on Monday and threatened another pastor in the state in an attempt to get him to stop holding services.
"Recent events in Uttar Pradesh are deeply worrying and indicative of a concerning increase in religious intolerance in India," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement. "The arbitrary arrests by the police go against the rule of law and we call on the government of India to ensure the release of all pastors currently held in detention, and to work to protect the right to freedom of religion of belief for all Indians, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party."
According to CSW, Pastor Bahavan Ram and his church in Kariyabar were disrupted during their Sunday services by police after Hindu nationalist groups claimed that Bahavan was converting people.
In some states in India it's considered a crime to forcibly convert someone through coercion or allurement. Often, forcible conversion laws are used by Hindu radicals to launch criminal complaints against Christian leaders.
But in Ram's case and that of the churchgoers in Kariyabar, the police were not able to find any proof to support the accusation of forcible conversion and no arrests were made in that case.
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On Monday, Pastor Nanhelal was doing repairs to his church in Jaunpur when a group of police officials paid him a visit and promised consequences if he does not put an end his church's worship services on Sunday.
In Shastri Nagar Kanpur, a mob stormed the Assembly of Believers Church and threatened the pastor with "severe consequences" if the church didn't stop holding its Sunday services.
The arrests highlighted in CSW's Wednesday report comes as CSW sources estimate that 23 pastors and family members have been arrested or detained arbitrarily between Aug. 20 and Sept. 18.
Asia News, the official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, reported last week that three Pentecostal pastors in Uttar Pradesh were among 271 people arrested for crimes such as "fraud, defiling places of worship, prejudice against national integration."
The pastors are under investigation for accusations that they extorted conversions from Hindus by spreading false information about Hinduism.
"In Uttar Pradesh Hindu radicals have fabricated unfounded accusations against innocent Pentecostal Christians," Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told the Catholic news outlet.
George warned that "there has been a surge in persecution against Christians" in Uttar Pradesh.
"Pentecostal pastors and Christian groups are under the constant watch of radical elements and the police," he stressed.
India ranks as the 11th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to the 2018 World Watch List produced by Open Doors USA.
"Because Hindu radicals view Christians as outsiders, Christianity in India is in more danger than ever before," An Open Doors fact sheet states. "These radicals are intent on cleansing the nation of both Islam and Christianity and employ violence to this end. Usually, converts to Christianity experience the worst persecution and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism."
According to Open Doors, Christian converts from Hinduism are subject to what is called "Ghar Wapsi" campaigns (homecoming) in an effort to pressure them to renounce their faith in Christ.
Many converts are assaulted or killed over their conversion.
"The government continues to look away when religious minorities are attacked, indicating that violence may continue to increase in the coming years," Open Doors warns.
Despite the increasing level of persecution in India, U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration have not done much to speak out against the religious persecution going on in India even though the administration has been vocal in condemning religious freedom violations in several other countries like China and Burma.
On Tuesday, Trump lauded India in his speech at the United Nations in New York for being a "free society" that is "successfully lifting countless millions out of poverty and into the middle class." However, the president made no mention of the religious freedom issues in the country.
Earlier this month, Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, was asked if the religious freedom issue came up at all in the recent 2+2 meeting that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had with their Indian counterparts.
"We respect democracies. We respect democracies because we believed democracies are self-correcting because there are institutions at play," Wells was quoted as responding. "I think the spirit of the dialogue takes place within that framework of respect for one another and the fact that we stand for and have fought for and have been trained in institutions, these principles, and recognizing that we too are not immune from criticism."