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8 Christians arrested during prayer meeting in India following conversion complaint

(Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)A protester holds a placard during a rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in Mumbai February 9, 2015.

Indian authorities arrested eight Christians at a prayer meeting in Uttar Pradesh state on Sunday following complaints about religious conversion.

According to an eyewitness, nine activists of a right-wing organization disrupted the meeting at Ahladpur village under Sarai Akil police station and threatened the congregants before returning with a police team.

"We took the action after receiving complaints from a group of people that religious conversion was under way," Kaushambi superintendent of police Pradeep Gupta told Hindustan Times.

Among the arrested Christians were Sone Lal, a farmer who was leading the prayer meeting. "Around 300 people assembled as usual on Sunday morning. Suddenly eight to nine people barged in and demanded that the prayer meeting be stopped. They also threatened us," he recounted.

"After 20 minutes they returned with the police who took nine of us to the police station. One Kaushal Kumar, 16, was a minor. Hence the police let him go and booked the rest of us under section 151," he continued.

The eight Christians were booked under Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which holds that joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons, that may cause disturbance of public peace, after orders to disperse is punishable with a maximum jail term of six months, or fine, or both.

Many of those attending the prayer meeting were reportedly Hindus who claimed that they started going to such meetings after witnessing miracles in the lives of their friends and acquaintances.

Similar disruptions have reportedly occurred at other prayer meetings in nearby Birner village on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5.

Christians in other Indian states have also faced arrests for allegedly violating India's anti-conversion laws.

In Madhya Pradesh State, two women were arrested late last month on charges of kidnapping children for conversion.

Anita Joseph and Amrit Kumar were arrested after the Hindu activist group Hindu Jagran Manch complained to the police that they were taking children to Mumbai by train to convert them to Christianity.

The families alleged that the women lured four girls and six boys aged below 14 with promises of toys and overseas schooling.

Presentation Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of the Delhi Minority Commission, contended that the arrest of the two women was a "conspiracy" by Hindu groups to portray Christians as indulging in illicit conversions.

"But everyone knows that it is not the case," she said, adding that extremist groups made false claims in order to represent themselves as protecting Hinduism.

Gill, who is a qualified lawyer in New Delhi, went on to say that Christians have failed to keep adequate records needed to refute accusations of conversions.

According to Crux, anti-conversion laws are currently in effect in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh, while Jharkhand, a state in eastern India, is currently preparing to pass a similar legislation.

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