Police officers barged into a Christian church in Uttar Pradesh, India and stopped a prayer service amid signs of an intensified crackdown against believers in the Hindu nation.
The police stopped the Christian prayer service at the church in Dathauli village, Maharajganj district on Friday following a complaint from the right-wing Hindu Yuva Vahini youth group that the service was a cover for religious conversion, The Hindustan Times reported.
More than 150 people were at the church, including 11 American tourists, when the police came and stopped Pastor Yohannan Adam from conducting the prayer service.
The Hindu youth group had filed a complaint against Adam, accusing him of converting Hindus to Christianity, a charge the pastor denied.
"The charges are absolutely baseless. The people were attending a prayer meeting voluntarily. We prayed. Nothing else was done," Adam said.
However, Krishna Nandan, a Hindu Yuva Vahini leader, insisted that Christian missionaries were trying to convert Hindus to their faith, saying the presence of the Americans inside the church was an indication of this.
Hindu radicals have long been targeting Christian missionaries, accusing them of converting Hindus by luring them with money and using coercion tactics.
Earlier this year, Hindu activists attacked the Full Gospel Church in the city of Gorakhpur, also in Uttar Pradesh, accusing the church of undertaking religious conversion of Hindus.
The Hindu radicals were further emboldened to intensify their attacks on Christians following the landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in local elections in Uttar Pradesh last month, The Guardian reported. The party subsequently named firebrand Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of the state.
Even before his assumption to power, Yogi Adityanath had been accused of instigating communal hatred toward religious minorities and had led multiple riots in the state, according to Open Doors USA.
Since 2005, he has led a campaign against Christians that openly calls on Hindu radicals to launch violent attacks on Christians and other religious minorities "to keep them in their place," the Christian persecution watchdog says.
"Yogi Adityanath has several criminal cases against him," The Times of India reported. "Some of the charges include rioting, attempt to murder, carrying deadly weapons, endangering the life or personal safety of others, unlawful assembly, trespassing on burial places and criminal intimidation."
With Hindu radicals in power, Christians in India find themselves even more vulnerable to attacks. Last year, 443 violent attacks on Christians were reported in India. From January to February this year alone, 163 attacks were recorded.
India ranks as the 15th worst country for Christians to be living in on Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch list.
The organization says there are nearly 64 million Christians in India, which has a total population of 1.3 billion people.