Thousands March to Protest Jailing of Christians Accused of Bribing Villagers to Join Christianity

(PHOTO:REUTERS)A Christian minister baptizes new Christian converts in Nagpur, India.

Close to 5,000 Christians marched through the streets in India's Jharkhand state on Monday in protest against the jailing of six believers last week who were accused of trying to bribe villagers with money and convert them to the faith.

"We wanted them to be released because they are innocent people who gathered for a prayer," said Gladson Dungdung, a Catholic leader, one of the organizers of the silent protest, according to Ucanews.com.

The arrested Christians are reportedly six Pentecostals from Tukupani village in Simdega district, who last week were denied bail. They were arrested after a village chief accused them of offering money to indigenous people to become Christians.

Dungdung said that the bail for the five men and one woman was denied "seemingly under pressure from higher ups."

He added that they will be appealing to a higher court, however.

Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simdega warned that an "atmosphere of suspicion" has been created after controversial anti-conversion laws were passed in August by the state's pro-Hindu government, which blocks conversion through force or allurement or fraudulent means.

Dungdung said the arrests send a "clear message that the new anti-conversion law will be used as a tool to check the activities of some people and groups. Christians will have a tough time ahead."

Another six Christians were arrested back in May for taking 72 children to a Vacation Bible School camp in Madhya Pradesh state, and were charged with kidnapping and forcible conversions after police refused to recognize the children as Christians.

A 15-year-old boy was also held in a juvenile detention center for nearly a month for his involvement in the alleged kidnapping.

The boy revealed that the children had permission from their Christian parents to go to the Bible camp program.

"I told the police I am a Christian by birth, and we are going to attend the VBS, but they did not listen to me and took us to the police station," he said at the time.

"Children as young as 6 were also in police custody, but when their parents came, the police handed them over to the parents. I was produced in court a day later, and from there was sent to a juvenile detention home," he added.

Police Superintendent Krishnaveni Desavatu claimed that the children's parents had not followed the proper procedures in announcing their change to the Christian religion, which means that by law they have to be treated as Hindu tribals.

Attorney Anand Nagarkar said: "The charges were framed based on malice and suspicion, and on this basis there can be no conviction, but the police have been taking it slow to file the challan [charge sheet]. They are under pressure by the Bajrang Dal and RSS activists."

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