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Indian authorities arrest, then release, two pastors accused of taking bribes for conversion

(Reuters/Adnan Abidi)People take part in a religion conversion ceremony from Christianity to Hinduism at Hasayan town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh August 29, 2014. Picture taken August 29, 2014.

Two pastors in northern India were arrested after they were accused of offering money to Hindus to convert to Christianity, but they were released soon after they assured a local Hindu leader that no bribe had been given.

The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), which supported the two pastors, reported that a local Hindu leader contacted the authorities after noticing that the attendance at the local church in Pidal village, Haryana was larger than normal.

The Hindu leader attempted to file a First Information Report (FIR) against Pastor Santok and Pastor Kalyan, alleging that the two men paid bribes to convert Hindus to Christianity.

Using the country's anti-conversion laws, the police arrested the two pastors and launched an investigation.

The pastors then released a video on social media to ask for help, saying they were arrested for no known reason and they feared for their safety.

The video was seen by Pastor Naresh, BPCA lead officer in India, who negotiated the release of the two pastors through his contact at the police station. The two pastors were then released after the Hindu leader was assured that no bribe had taken place.

"We were simply sharing the gospel and had the doors open at our church for anyone who wanted to come in. We were not asking people o change their religion that is their choice. We did not give any gifts or any money that is a total lie," Santok said following the ordeal.

BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said that the two pastors "had a very fortunate escape," noting that in most cases, Christians involved in anti-conversion allegations end up in costly court cases resulting in sentences and fines.

Last week, around 5,000 Christians in Jharkhand state gathered for a silent protest to demand the release of six Pentecostals who were jailed following accusations of offering money to villagers to convert them to Christianity.

Five men and one woman were charged with upsetting the religious feelings of others, but a police official said that they were not booked under the provisions of the state's new anti-conversion law.

The anti-conversion law in Jharkhand is not yet in effect, but it stipulates that those who want to convert to another religion should seek permission from the government. Those who are found to be in violation of the law could be jailed for up to three years and face a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$800).

Apart from Jharkhand, anti-conversion laws are also in effect in six other Indian states, namely Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh.

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