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Stay ordered in Kashmir blasphemy case: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2012 p 7. February 23, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A high court justice in Kashmir has ordered a stay of proceedings in the case of the Rev. C.M. Khanna on charges that his baptism of Muslim converts had caused a breach of the peace and aggravated religious tensions in the Northern Indian state.

On 28 Oct 2010 the Anglican priest was called before a Sharia court to answer charges of blasphemy. The summons came in the wake of the publication on the internet of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service Mr. Khanna conducted for seven Muslim men. The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs had charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The All India Christian Council denounced the arrest, noting the Sharia Court had no legal authority in India and accused the police of arresting the priest in order to forestall an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists.  No member of the Kashmir bar would appear in court on Mr. Khanna’s behalf and a number of attorneys called for the state to refuse him bail.

However, bail was granted on 1 December after outside counsel travelled to Srinigar to defend Mr. Khanna before the state court.

On 11 February 2012, Justice J.P Singh of Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued an order staying legal proceedings and directed the Director General of Police and the Home Office to answer Mr. Khanna’s petition that his arrest was unlawful.

According to the petition filed with the court, on 26 Oct Mr. Khanna was summoned to appear before the Sharia Court to answer charges of blasphemy on 28 Oct.  The following day the police began a formal investigation of Mr. Khanna on charges of disturbing the peace – a charge, he noted that was a cloak for the blasphemy charge brought by Muslim leaders.

Mr. Khanna was summoned a second time by the Sharia Court and appeared on 11 Nov before 25 to 30 Muslim clerics.  “The atmosphere in the said proceedings was so surcharged that everybody was shouting insults and false accusations against the petitioner. These proceedings were highlighted almost in every local newspaper in the [Kashmir] Valley,” the petition noted.

It was in the wake of these proceedings that the police arrested Mr. Khanna for fomenting religious strife on 19 Nov, he argued.  He was subsequently kept at a police station “under illegal detention” until he was bailed.

In his petition, Mr. Khanna noted that the Sharia Court had issued a Fatwa on 19 January that ordered his “life ban” on returning to Kashmir.  He asked the court to dismiss the criminal proceedings as no prima-facie case had been presented by the police that he had violated any civil law.  Sharia law, his attorneys argued, should not be empowered by a secular state through the support of the government.

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