Updated on 30 September, 2022
On 7 September, 2022, ADF India allied lawyers and activists in Uttar Pradesh stood outside Gorakhpur jail awaiting the release of Pastor Ayush* and Kamal* who were wrongly imprisoned. The two pastors looked physically weakened as they stepped out of the prison gates, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They had endured a five-month long ordeal that can only be described as a living nightmare!
30-year-old Pastor Ayush, from Jammu & Kashmir, had once been in the Indian Navy before he had a personal experience that led him to enroll in Bible College. In January 2022, he went down to Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, at the invitation of a local pastor to assist him with the church there. Kamal, a friend of Pastor Ayush from Bible college, also joined him in Gorakhpur in April.
On the evening of 9 April, 2022, Pastor Ayush and Kamal were praying at home when the police barged into their house. They stepped on the Bibles and tore them up. The little money they had, along with their phones and their identity cards were snatched from them. The police then took them to the station where they were beaten and tortured. Pastor Ayush and Kamal were perplexed as they had no idea what crime they had committed to deserve such hostile treatment.
On the third day at the police station, the authorities pressured the Pastor and his friend to put their thumb impression on a document stating they had forcefully converted people by paying them money.
The two men were booked and imprisoned under the UP Freedom of Religion Act.
In jail, they suffered terrible emotional and physical abuse at the hands of not only the prison guards but the other prisoners too. “Our inmates taunted us saying that we would be shot dead and no one would hear about it because nobody cared about Christians,” remembers Kamal.
ADF India allied lawyers in Uttar Pradesh persistently sought justice for the two brave friends and secured their bail.
After an emotional reunion with his family, Kamal recalled how his mother’s first question to him was, “Beta (my son), I hope you have not renounced your faith and forgotten your God?” To which Kamal resolutely responded, “Never! Nothing can stop me from worshiping my God!”
Unfortunately, two days after the release of Pastor Ayush and Kamal, the police arrested four other pastors in Gorakhpur again under similar false allegations, and ADF India allies are actively seeking their release. The state of Uttar Pradesh has seen 105 such incidents reported against Christians in 2021 and already 120 incidents since January this year**. These incidents include sexual violence, intimidation and threats, social ostracism, vandalism and desecration of religious places, disruption of prayer services, etc. Majority of these incidents are dominated by cases of physical brutality and closure of churches. ADF India allied lawyers are currently working for the bail of 13 pastors in jails in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
It is alarming that religious freedom is being trampled upon in such a brutal manner by a few extremist elements. For many peace-loving members of the community, the constitutional freedom to simply live out their faith has quite literally become a matter of life and death!
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*Names changed for security reasons
**Data Source: United Christian Forum