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Compass (03/16/06) – Rajasthan state police officers today arrested the Rev. Dr. Samuel Thomas, president of Emmanuel Mission International (EMI) and son of Archbishop M.A. Thomas, EMI’s founder.

The arrest took place in Noida, Uttar Pradesh state. Both Thomas and his father had gone underground after Hindu extremists accused them of distributing a controversial book that they alleged denigrated their religion and deities.

Archbishop Thomas is still in hiding. Projects run by the ministry he founded – including orphanages, schools, and a hospital – have been targeted for closure by a wide array of Hindu extremists the past few months, including some who have offered a reward of $26,000 for the heads of the archbishop and his son.

State Welfare Minister Madan Dilawar said earlier this week that he should be stoned if he did not “take action” against Thomas and his father.

The arrest took place at noon when Thomas arrived in the driveway of the home of attorney R.K. Jain, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India, to arrange anticipatory bail for himself and his father. Jain lives in Noida township, Uttar Pradesh state.

Thomas was accompanied by two lawyers, C.J. Babu and Brahum Datt, and Sajan George, the national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

Several policemen in civil dress stopped the car in which Thomas’ party was traveling and forced him into their own vehicle. The officers neglected to follow proper procedure – showing neither their identity cards nor an arrest warrant, according to George.

“Five or six people, one of whom claimed to be the station house officer of the Bhimgunj Mandi police station in Kota , [Rajasthan], tried to push Thomas into a car parked close to the gate of Jain’s house,” George said in a written complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). “Then one of them put a firearm to my face and warned us not to resist the arrest.”

George also argued that the Rajasthan police were shadowing him. “I made an appointment with Jain for 12 noon today, and that shows that they were aware of the appointment – perhaps by tapping my telephone,” he said.

Expressing apprehensions about Thomas’ well-being, George urged the NHRC to take “appropriate action.”

Following the arrest, the NHRC was supposed to request the Rajasthan state government to report back within 24 hours on the status of Thomas, according to George.

‘Hurting Religious Sentiments’

Mohammad Akram, Thomas’ attorney in Rajasthan, said the Kota district court had earlier rejected an anticipatory bail application for Thomas and his father. A bail petition for Archbishop Thomas will come up for hearing in the Rajasthan High Court on March 24, he said.

Mansingh Chaudhary, station house officer of the Bhimgunj Mandi police station, registered an official complaint against Thomas, his father the archbishop, and a few other EMI staff members on February 14, under Section 153(a) and 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 153(a) deals with hurting religious sentiments, while Section 295(a) is for deliberately outraging religious feelings or insulting the religious beliefs of a community. Both offenses are punishable with up to three years imprisonment. Moreover, according to a Supreme Court ruling, truth is not a defense under Section 153(a).

EMI senior staff members said the mission was not a major distributor of Haqeeqat (The Truth or Reality), and that they merely kept a few copies of the book at their head office at Kota district. Apparently few staff members had even read the book.

EMI operates under five registered societies: Emmanuel Bible Institute Samiti, Emmanuel Anath Ashram (Orphanage), Emmanuel School Society, Emmanuel Chikitsalaya (Hospital) Samiti, and Emmanuel Believers Fellowship. EMI leads a native church movement receiving aid from Columbus, Georgia-based Hopegivers International for humanitarian and educational work with over 10,000 children.

Tensions began on January 25, when Archbishop Thomas and his son received anonymous death threats warning them not to hold the annual graduation ceremony for hundreds of orphans and Dalit Christian students scheduled for February 25. The ceremony was postponed in the wake of the threats and attacks.

On February 2, a mob of Hindu extremists attacked an EMI orphanage in Tindole, resulting in the death of one child and the stoning and beatings of children, staff and local clergy. On February 10 in Ramganjmandi, a Hindu mob burned to the ground an EMI school and orphanage.

On February 20, V.S. Thomas, officer in charge of the Hope Center Orphanage in Raipura, and R.S. Nair, mission chief operating officer, were detained without charges. During the arrests, police stood by as an accuser beat one of the men, according to Hopegivers International.