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India: Religious conversion ban threatening Christians may expand to 9th state

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The Hindu nationalist government of the northern state of Haryana has pledged to enact a law to regulate religious conversions that would lead to the arrest of Christians who share their faith, talk about Heaven or Hell, or perform charity work for lower caste Hindus.

The draconian “anti-conversion” laws, termed as Freedom of Religion Acts, presume that Christian workers “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity.

Manohar Lal Khattar, Haryana’s chief minister, said this week his administration would introduce a bill against religious conversion by force, marriages, or through inducement for the specific purpose of adopting a religion, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said, quoting Indian newspapers.

Eight other states in India have already enacted this law.

“While one has the right to adopt any religion, conversion by force, inducement, etc. are not tolerable. The Right to Freedom of Religion Bill will be brought in, in which there will be provisions against conversion by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement, marriage, or any fraudulent means,” Khattar was quoted as saying.

“Strict actions are being considered to be taken against those involved in forced conversions,” the official, belonging to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, added.

While these laws have been in place for decades in some states, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. However, these laws allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.

“Although similar laws exist in eight other states in India, those governments have not defined the terms’ inducement,’ ‘coercion,’ ‘force,’ or ‘fraud’ in the context of religious conversions,” ICC said. “Due to this legal ambiguity, these laws have been widely abused and empowers radical Hindu nationalist groups to attack and intimidate Christian minorities claiming to be acting under the state law.”

Some of these laws state that no one is allowed to use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” meaning Christians cannot talk about Heaven or Hell, as that would be seen as “forcing” someone to convert. And if snacks or meals are served to Hindus after an evangelistic meeting, that could be seen as “inducement.”

The ICC previously noted that India’s own population data proves that the conspiracy of mass conversions to Christianity is a false claim. “In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up only 2.3% of India’s overall population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still only make up 2.3% of the population.”

Attacks and curbs on Christians have been on the rise since the BJP won India’s 2014 general election.

“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” noted Open Doors’ World Watch List, which ranked India as the 10th worst country for Christians.

“The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is viewed as non-Indian. Also, converts to Christianity from Hindu backgrounds or tribal religions are often extremely persecuted by their family members and communities,” Open Doors added.

According to Delhi-based Evangelical Fellowship of India, at least 147 violent attacks on India’s Christian community were reported in 2014, and the number increased to 366 in 2019.

India recently denied entry visas to representatives of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom who had planned to investigate reports of persecution of Muslims and Christians following the release of its report that designates India as a “Country of Particular Concern.”

Sources:Christian Post

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UAE suspends visa-free travel agreement with Israel until July

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The United Arab Emirates has suspended an agreement to inaugurate visa-free travel for Israelis to the Gulf country until July 1, citing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Until then, Israeli citizens seeking to travel to the UAE will need to obtain a visa, as will UAE citizens seeking to travel to Israel, the ministry said on Monday. The UAE has taken a similar step regarding travel from most European countries, as well as India and Pakistan, the Israeli ministry said.

Israel is in its third lockdown and discussing the possibility of extending it beyond Jan. 21 as the number of new cases remains high.

The UAE ratified the agreement on visa-free travel with Israel last week and it was set to go into effect 30 days from then. The agreement follows a normalization accord between the countries signed in September.

The announcement of the suspension comes a day after Israel’s cabinet voted to require all people returning from the UAE and Brazil to quarantine in government-run hotels. A similar decision made previously regarding travelers returning from South Africa and Zambia was extended for 10 days.

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Christian Group in India Documents 327 Incidents of Persecution in 2020

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India – According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), Indian Christians endured at least 327 incidents of persecution in 2020. This was despite the fact that most of India’s population lived under locked down conditions for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to EFI, 327 cases of persecution were documented in 2020. At least five Christians were murdered and six churches were burnt or demolished in religiously motivated attacks. In addition, EFI noted 26 incidents of social boycotts where Christian communities were shunned by their non-Christian neighbors due to their religious identity.

EFI’s report documents the continuation of an ongoing trend of growing religious intolerance and violence in India. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took political power in 2014, incidents of Christian persecution documented by EFI have more than doubled. In 2014, the year the BJP rose to political power, EFI recorded 147 violent attacks on Indian Christians. In 2019, after five years of BJP rule, EFI recorded 366 violent attacks.

The incidents documented by EFI likely represent only a portion of the violence experienced by India’s Christian community. Most incidents go unreported due to fear of reprisal and lack of confidence in India’s justice system.
Sources:persecution

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