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5/24/2024 India (International Christian Concern) Nearly 70 Christians arrested under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance of 2020 are languishing in jails in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) as authorities delay or deny their bail applications on flimsy grounds. 

According to Pastor Bishnoi, who has helped free detained Christians, the most common reason to deny a believer’s bail is to complete the formalities for bail under various pretexts. 

“Since the time the national elections for the Lower House of Indian Parliament have been announced, we have seen that the process for bail applications to move forward and bail hearings have all become slow. I can say that around 70 pastors are still in jail,” said Pastor Bishnoi, who lives and works in UP’s Varanasi city, considered the main pilgrimage center for Hindus. 

In December 2023, more than 50 pastors and believers were detained simultaneously in two adjacent UP districts. Most were released in a day or two, but authorities sent nine pastors to prison. 

At that time, Bishnoi and high-ranking Christian lawyers helped secure the release of eight of the nine pastors in a tough legal battle that lasted more than a month. 

“I am directly involved with lawyers trying to obtain bail for 46 people who are in various jails,” Bishnoi said. “There are many more. My guess is at least 70.” 

Bishnoi added that UP is a large state in terms of both area and population, so collating exact numbers is difficult. 

The state remains the most notorious for intimidating Christians under its anti-conversion law. 

Police have since brazenly stormed peaceful gatherings of Christians in their churches and even houses, accusing pastors of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity and subsequently detaining them on multiple false charges. 

Any gathering of Christians in UP, even a ubiquitous birthday celebration, carries risk as those who attended such events have been falsely implicated and detained. 

Right-wing fanatic organizations often alert police about Christian gatherings. Pastors and other believers are sometimes kept at police stations for several days without any charges filed.  

Once behind bars, the long, arduous process of securing their release becomes another form of punishment. 

*Names have been changed for security reasons 

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