UP police target Christian institutions based on flimsy evidence and questionable investigation

ECI church, Hariharganj, Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Courtesy of ECI)

A new investigation by independent media outlet Article 14 has revealed troubling details about how Uttar Pradesh police registered multiple First Information Reports (FIRs) and arrested over 200 people associated with four long-standing Christian institutions in Fatehpur district over the last year.

The police action stems from an incident on April 14, 2022, when around 250 people from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stormed a prayer service at the 118-year-old Evangelical Church of India in Fatehpur. They locked 55 people inside and raised slogans alleging conversion activities. Based on a complaint by VHP member Himanshu Dixit, police booked the 55 people present at the church under the state’s anti-conversion law.

Over the next 9 months, police registered three more FIRs against the church. In total, four Christian institutions, namely the Evangelical Church, the 114-year-old Broadwell Christian Hospital located nearby, the 110-year-old Sam Higginbottom University in Prayagraj and the Christian NGO World Vision India, have been accused in multiple FIRs of running a conversion racket.

According to the Article 14 investigation, the FIRs and subsequent chargesheets show a consistent pattern: complaints by third parties like VHP workers with no legal standing as victims, no testimony by any alleged victims, questionable police investigation that draws definitive conclusions based on flimsy evidence like anonymous verbal complaints and little material proof of any forced conversions.

In total, police have arrested over 200 people including pastors, hospital staffers, university officials and NGO workers. Experts interviewed by Article 14 said statements recorded by police have little evidentiary value unless confirmed before a magistrate. The only evidence connecting the institutions to forced conversions is distribution of items like soap and food packets by World Vision India.

Furthermore, the retrospective application of the anti-conversion law has raised legal concerns, especially regarding its compatibility with constitutional rights. The allegations against Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences (SHUATS), a Christian minority institution in Naini, Prayagraj, UP, including claims of promising job opportunities and marriage in exchange for conversion, highlight the complexities surrounding these cases.

Lawyers said UP’s anti-conversion law cannot be applied retrospectively to events before its 2020 enactment. Currently, four challenges to the law are pending in the Supreme Court. Former SC Justice Deepak Gupta has called the law “absolutely unconstitutional.” The Allahabad High Court has also observed that the VHP complainant Himanshu Dixit had no legal standing to file a complaint.

Christian leaders in UP feel the community is being targeted like Muslims were after CM Yogi Adityanath assumed power. The institutions allege the police investigation appears aimed at justifying the initial FIRs instead of uncovering the truth. The UP government is yet to respond to the findings.

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