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India Evangelical Pastor Released After Crackdown in Madhya Pradesh

(BosNewsLife) 6/7/2006– An evangelical pastor in India’s troubled state of Madhya Pradesh who was arrested while leading a house prayer meeting this weekend was reportedly free Wednesday, June 7, after a court released him on bail.

27-year old Pastor Jagdish Bharti, of the Bethel Fellowship Church , was one of 15 Christians who were detained Sunday, June 4, after Hindu militants broke up their prayer meeting and dragged Christians inside a nearby temple to force them to bow before local gods, Christian investigators said.

Except for Bharti, all Christians were apparently released the same day, after hours of police interrogations.

The pastor was released on bail of 20,000 rupees (US$436) Tuesday, June 6, and his next court appearance was expected June 18, on charges of insulting religious beliefs “with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging” religious feelings, news reports said. The pastor has denied the charges.

“VERY CONCERNED”

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), a major advocacy group, told BosNewsLife his organization was “very concerned” about the situation of the pastor. He said “radicals forced themselves into the hall and threw the Bibles away and started abusing the men and women. They [also] dragged the Christian believers to a nearby Hindu temple and forced them to abandon Christian faith.”

The troubles began after a woman complained that “Pastor Jagadish and other members were persuading her to join the Christian congregation,” George added. Madhya Pradesh anti conversion law which forbids conversions “by the use of force or by allurement or by fraudulent means.”

The GCIC has accused the State Government and police of involvement in “dreaded acts of violence,” carried out by Hindu militants who fear the spread of Christianity in the region. In a statement Pastor Bharti said police encouraged militants to beat him if he is caught evangelizing.

Christians comprise roughly two percent of India ’s over 1 billion mainly Hindu population