BosNewsLife (03/29/06) In a move expected to raise international concerns, the leader of one of India’s largest evangelical mission groups was Wednesday, March 29, in a Kota Central Jail of the state of Rajasthan, which has been shaken by religious strife, officials said.
After about two weeks in police custody, authorities decided late Tuesday, March 28, to transfer Hopegivers International (HI) leader Samuel Thomas, to the detention center pending trial, the organization told BosNewsLife.
The move came after “a judge denied bail to the Christian humanitarian leader on March 27 and ordered him to be held in judicial custody until April 10 when he is scheduled to appear before the court again,” HI said.
Thomas was detained March 16, by security forces after being on the run to avoid arrest for his alleged involvement in inciting hatred, charges he has denied.
Samuel Thomas told BosNewsLife in a statement that he and his 71-year old father had been in hiding to avoid assassinations and arrest for what he calls trumped up charges.
He is the son of the president of HI’s affiliate Emmanuel Mission International (EMI), Archbishop M.A. Thomas, who is still in hiding.
Both men are wanted by militants and government officials supporting them for their alleged involvement in a perceived anti-Hindu publication. Father and son have denied the accusations saying HI had not published that book.
Hindu-led authorities also revoked all operating licenses of Hopegivers-supported bookstores, churches, the hospital and leprosy or HIV-AIDS outreaches, orphanages, printing presses, schools and other institutions, HI said.
Last month one HI orphanage was already attacked by militants who were seen beating pastors and stoning children, HI claimed. In addition about 2,500 orphans and abandoned children protected at the Emmanuel Hope Home in Kota , Rajasthan live under siege for over a month as Hindu militants have threatened to storm the complex, HI and other sources said.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, Hopegivers Executive Director Michael Glenn said US-based HI set up a Legal Defense Fund for Thomas and launched a massive letter-writing campaign urging Indian officials to release the mission leader.
“This is a clear case of religious discrimination,” said Glenn. “But we are very encouraged by events like the freeing of the Christian convert Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan ,” who was facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.
Governments do listen to world public opinion when Christians are falsely imprisoned like this.” HI claims the real reason for the detention of Thomas and staff members is their work among Dalits, seen as “untouchables” under India ‘s ancient caste system of Hinduism.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Rajasthan has denied any wrongdoing and says it acts according to the law. It has however introduced what church groups describe as “controversial” anti-conversion legislation, which effectively bans Christian activities among Hindus.
Under the Rajasthan Dharma Swatantrik Vidhayak,” or Rajasthan Religious Freedom Bill, anyone is found guilty of indulging in conversion activities “by deceitful means, or by means that are against the law,” would be liable for imprisonment of two to five years, church sources said.
HI said it also remains concerned over Thomas father and Hopegivers’ Founder, Bishop M.A. Thomas, who is not yet in policy custody. Because of his age and apparent poor health, lawyers are reportedly seeking anticipatory bail for him. “Both of the Thomas have been charged with false accusations related to causing communal disharmony and deny any wrongdoing,” HI said.
Hindu radicals supporting the government have reportedly offered a $52,000 bounty in local currency for their heads. Despite the setbacks, Glen said he was hopeful as public opinion in India seems to change. “Just last week, the Chief Administrator of Hopegivers partner, Emmanuel Mission International (EMI), was released and more positive things are happening every day,” he added.
“Every major Indian newspaper has run a story condemning the extremists and it is only a matter of time until the Thomas are fully exonerated of any wrongdoing,” the HI official said.
HI can be reached via e-mail: [email protected] or in the US toll-free via phone number: 1-866-373-4673.