A pastor's case took three years to be settled by an Indian court, but now his acquittal is being hailed as a triumph by Christian persecution watch groups.
In 2016, Pastor Balu Saste, his wife, and eleven other church members in the small village of Madhya Pradesh were violently attacked by a mob during church services. Local police arrested Balu (who is blind), his wife, and his six-year-old son, stripped them of their clothes, beat them, and kept them detained without bail for three days. They were also falsely charged with forcing conversions to Christianity and convicted.
ADF International, the global partner of US-based Alliance Defending Freedom, reports the landmark ruling marks an important victory against India's anti-conversion laws, which increasingly threaten the fundamental rights of religious minorities.
"Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith," Tehmina Arora, director of ADF India said in a press release. "The acquittal of Pastor Balu and his family is a vital step towards the protection of religious freedom and the right to freely live out one's faith. Now he can continue to tend to his small community of Christians without interference from the state."
"Unfortunately, this is not the only case in India where Christians have been falsely accused under anti-conversion laws," Arora added. "These laws make religious minorities subject to arbitrary imprisonments and criminal charges, mob violence, and violations of their fundamental rights."
ADF International also warns violence against Christians has risen significantly. In the first quarter of the year, the United Christian Forum and ADF India documented more than 80 violent mob attacks against Christians in 13 different states across India. The attacks often take a similar shape and rarely receive any police attention.
"The case of Pastor Balu provides a telling example of the injustices faced by many Christians in India," Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International said in a press release. "The important ruling in his case shows that the fundamental rights of religious minorities can and should be protected in the courtroom and through effective legal advocacy."
"Sadly, the recent violence and mob attacks are not isolated incidents but testify to what many Christians experience in India today," he noted. "All people have the right to freely choose, and live out their faith. We urge the Indian government to uphold this right and do more to protect religious minorities and promote religious freedom."
For the first time, India is now listed in the Top Ten of countries on the World Watch List for the persecution of Christians.