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New Charges Leveled Against EMI Leaders in India

(Compass Direct) 6/1/2006– The administration of Rajasthan state’s Kota district has leveled fresh charges of “exciting . . . disaffection towards the government of India” against Emmanuel Mission International (EMI) founder Archbishop M.A. Thomas and his son, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Thomas, EMI president.

EMI attorney Mohammad Akram said he feared that the additional charges could lead to the re-arrest of Samuel Thomas – released on bail under previous charges – and other workers, and the re-issue of an arrest warrant against the senior Thomas. The elder Thomas had been granted anticipatory bail on previous charges.

Akram said Kota police had reportedly added the charge that the map of India shown on the website of Georgia-based Hopegivers International, which funds EMI, excluded Jammu and Kashmir states. The accusation was made under Section 124(a) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which outlaws “bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt, or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India .”

The law is usually only invoked when words, spoken or published, criticize any government establishment with intent to create public disorder or disturbance of law and order. An offence under this law can lead to imprisonment for life.

Akram said the provisions of the law had nothing to do with the use of India ’s map.

“After the framing of charges by a magistrate, the police cannot normally investigate further or add any more charges to the complaint,” he added. “However, since Archbishop Thomas was declared as an ‘absconding criminal,’ the police were able to use Section 173(8) of the Criminal Procedure Code to keep the investigation pending and thereby paving the way to add in more charges.”

Akram told Compass that he applied for anticipatory bail for Thomas, his son and other EMI workers in a district court on Monday (May 29) after learning about the new charges in the Hindi regional daily Rajasthan Patrika of May 20. A hearing scheduled for today, Akram added, has been rescheduled for next Monday (June 5).

Three separate complaints had been lodged against the EMI workers in February. Two complaints were for allegedly distributing a controversial book, Haqeekat (The Truth or Reality), which, the accusers said, denigrated Hindu religion and deities. The other complaint was for “illegally confining” children at the EMI orphanage.

Acting on complaints regarding the distribution of the book, police had arrested Samuel Thomas, administrator V.S. Thomas, Bible college student Vikram Kindo and chief operating officer R.S. Nair, a Hindu.

Sources told Compass the new charges against EMI had also been added to the illegal-confinement case lodged against 10 EMI workers on February 23 (First Information Report number 61/06) by Savita Krishna of the state Social Welfare Department.

Sections 153(a), 295(a) and 124(a) – the latter dealing with inciting hatred against India – were added to the complaint, the sources said. The charges about the book were registered under Section 153(a), which deals with hurting religious sentiments, and Section 295(a) for deliberately outraging religious feelings or insulting the religious beliefs of a community. Both offenses are punishable with up to three years imprisonment.

The complaint was made against Thomas and his son, V.S. Thomas, R.S. Nair, Thomas Matthew, K.C. John, O. George, Y. Kunjukunju, P.V. Thomas and Harrison Rod.

The Registrar of Societies revoked the registrations of EMI institutions on February 20, on the pretext that they had violated procedures required by law. Also, the bank accounts of EMI institutions were frozen.

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.

‘Suspicious’ Activities

On another front in the attack on EMI, member of the Rajasthan State Minorities Commission Jaspal Singh told the Rajasthan Patrika on May 29 that EMI’s activities were “suspicious,” pointing out that the school passing rate of the children at its orphanage was merely 15 to 20 percent – “which shows that the objective is not education of these children, as the EMI alleges.”

Singh asked the EMI to “not indulge in any activity that would disturb the people of Kota .”

He also said that an anti-conversion bill passed by the assembly on April 7 should become a law to prohibit “unlawful conversions.” The Rajasthan governor refused to sign the “Freedom of Religion Bill” on May 19. Such legislation has been used in other states in India as a pretext for jailing Christians who proclaim Christ.

Tensions in Kota 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.