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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.

Sharia court orders expulsion of Christian clergy from Kashmir: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2012, p 6. February 2, 2012

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

Two priests convicted of blasphemy by an Indian sharia law court have been expelled from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

On 19 January 2012 the Deputy Grand Mufti of Srinigar, Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam held a press conference to report that a sharia court had decided that the Rev. C.M. Khanna of the Church of North India’s All Saint’s Church in Srinigar, Roman Catholic Mill Hill missionary Fr. Jim Borst and two lay catechists, Gavoor Massi and Chandra Kanta must be expelled from J&K – the only Muslim majority state in India.

The four Anglican and Roman Catholics were “guilty of luring the Muslims especially young boys and girls to Christianity by exploiting their financial conditions, promoting immorality and moral degradation, exploiting serious health ailments by facilitating different kind of help to Muslims against the conversion from Islam to Christianity,” Nasir-ul Islam told the press conference according to the Kashmir newspaper the Rising Kashmir Daily.

The sharia court had “imposed a life time ban” on entering J&K, he said, adding that the state government had agreed to enforce the sharia court verdict.

Mr. Khanna, who has left Srinigar for the safety of the state’s winter capital Jammu, told UCANews the sharia court’s actions had put his life in peril, and the “government has not done anything to protect us.”

On 20 January the Greater Kashmir – the state’s largest circulation English language newspaper — published an article allegedly written by one of Mr. Khanna’s converts that offered a lurid account of his conversion.  Mr. Khanna and his wife were accused of plying the young man with alcohol, narcotics, sex, money and the opportunity of moving to California if he became a Christian.  The article entitled “Apostasy Unveiled” culminates with the fantastical passage:

“There were candles and an empty glass on the table. As the prayers went on, someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. It was swine blood which we all had to drink. Khanna took some sips, then his daughter and I joined the others.”

The 64 year old Anglican minister has denied the charges proffered by the Sharia court, but has had to leave Srinigar after 24 years of service.

The Church of North India’s Bishop in Amritsar, the Rt. Rev. P K Samantaroy denounced the sharia court’s order saying “nobody has the right to expel us from the state or country.”

He told UCANews that it was “unfair” to question the integrity of Christians who “have played a major role in building peace and harmony in the state.”

However, Mufti Nasir warned Christians from trying to return to the state.  He called upon the government to take over the administration of Srinigar’s Anglican and Roman Catholic mission schools and to combat the “dirty and sinister designs” of Christian missionaries.

The mufti appealed to his “fellow Muslims to remain vigilant and guard that such elements don’t reappear in the state.”

Sharia Court convicts Anglican priest of blasphemy for baptizing Muslims: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2012 p 6, January 21, 2012

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The All India Christian Council has condemned an indictment issued by a Sharia law court in Kashmir that charges two priests with blasphemy by enticing Muslims to convert to Christianity.

On 11 January 2012 Muslim leaders in the Northern Indian state issued a statement saying that “it was proved beyond doubt that the accused” the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, the Rev Chander Mani Khanna of the Church of North India, “along with other accomplices was luring Muslim people to change their religion.”

A second priest, Fr. Jim Borst, a Roman Catholic missionary who has worked in Kashmir for 46 years, was also charged with converting Muslims to Christianity.

“The Kashmir situation is going through a critical phase and if such elements are not brought to book it will have a serious and negative impact on the (Kashmiri Muslim) society,” the Muslim leaders said.

“It is shocking and surprising that the state government was allowing such activities. Kashmir society will not tolerate such activities at all and we stand united against such elements,” Mufti Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam said.  The sentence from the court would be announced shortly, he added.

On 19 Nov 2011 Mr. Khanna was arrested by the Jammu & Kashmir police on charges of fomenting civil unrest.  He was released on 1 Dec 2011 and has since left the state for fear for his life.

However, Christian leaders have denounced the indictment stating that Sharia courts have no civil standing.  In a statement released on 13 January 2012, the All India Christian Council (AICC) said it was “deeply disturbed” by the Sharia court’s actions.  “Such statements can encourage extremist elements to indulge in violence,” the Council said.

“It was hoped that religious and secular authorities, and the state government, would show maturity and responsibility,” the AICC said, “keeping in view the delicately poised public peace situation” in Kashmir.

The “Church does not accept as genuine any conversion brought about by fraud or force,” the AICC said, noting that a fact finding team which went to Srinagar shortly after the arrest of Mr. Khanna and “interviewed Church personnel, Ulema, school, authorities and the police, found no evidence of force or fraud in baptisms that have been carried out over a period of time. Each baptism has been proved to be voluntary.”

The head of the AICC, Dr John Dayal, said it “devolves on the Jammu and Kashmir Government, religious leaders and people of goodwill in the Kashmir valley to ensure that the nights of minorities are respected, their welfare assured, and communal harmony strengthened in the region which so desperately requires and environment of peace for its development and well being.”

 

Kashmir priest arrested to placate Muslim extremists, report finds: The Church of England Newspaper, December 16, 2011 p 7. December 15, 2011

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The Rev. C.M. Khanna

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Fears of an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists prompted the imprisonment of an Anglican priest in Kashmir, an investigation by the All India Christian Council has found.

In an 8000-word report paper released on 5 Dec 2011, the All India Christian Council stated that the Rev. C.M. Khanna, the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, was arrested to placate Muslim leaders, angered by his baptism of seven young 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 charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The arrest followed the circulation of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service he conducted for seven Muslim men.  The priest has since been released from prison on bail on 1 Dec, and warned neither to leave the state nor to baptize any more Muslims.

According to the All India Christian Council report, Mr. Khanna had been wary of baptizing Muslims for fear of an agent provocateur seeking to discredit the church.  He had also turned away those who sought financial assistance and offered to convert to Christianity in return for cash.  While Kashmir has no anti-conversion laws, the small Christian community in Srinigar (300 Anglicans and 100 Roman Catholics) has sought to avoid confrontation with the Muslim majority.

However, the seven young men had been attending the church for ten months and displayed “great piety,” Mr. Khanna told investigators. “He was convinced of their motives. But even then, he questioned them and explained the difficulties they could face. They were firm in their new faith and insisted that he baptise them.”

After watching a video of the baptism, the Chief Mufti of Srinigar, Bashir-u-din ordered Mr. Khanna to appear before a Sharia court on 28 Oct.  He interrogated Mr Khanna for six hours and then released, warning him not to baptise anyone else.

The Chief Mufti told the fact finding mission that he had summoned the priest before the court after having received complaints.  “He said by calling their converts’ previous life in Islam in the same breath as shaitan or devil, Rev Khanna had also insulted Islam and had committed a blasphemy to add to the crime of apostasy of the people he had baptized,” the report said.

The mufti waived away the fact finding mission’s observation that religious courts had no legal standing, stating that “the court is a reality and has jurisdiction in the valley, if not in the entire Jammu and Kashmir State.”

“And yet the State government had taken no notice of this development which could have serious repercussions for the state and its religious minorities,” the report noted.

Mr. Khanna’s mistreatment continued after his arrest, as local newspapers printed false stories saying he had paid the young men to convert, and fabricated quotes from the priest that served to inflame public sentiment.  None of the city’s lawyers would agree to act as his counsel, the report noted, and while he was held in jail crowds gathered outside the prison calling for Islamic justice.

While the police stated they had treated Mr. Khanna well and that he had not been tortured, the seven converts were arrested and beaten by the police, who sought confessions that they had been paid to become Christians.  They have since fled the area in fear for their lives.

“We met two of them in Jammu where they are in hiding,” the report said, and “their names are being kept secret because it is feared they may be targeted by both the police and the Islamic groups.”

One of the converts said he “had turned to Christianity after the miraculous healing of his pregnant wife. Both said they had become Christians without any allurement and without any threats, of their own free will, and fully knowing the repercussions of their action.”

The report noted that the “most recent tension against Christians has been brewing since Autumn. Many people told us that some extremist groups and vested interests were planning to use the Christian issue of alleged conversions” as an “issue in their political confrontations with the state government and political parties on the one hand, and with other Islamic groups, specially the moderates, on the other.”

The report said that Islamist extremists were seeking to supplant the traditional Sufi Islam of the region and “were perpetually looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble, stoning on the roads and widespread riots.”

“This is why the government was jittery and would go to any extreme to ward off trouble from the Islamic groups. The arrest of the pastor had to be seen in this light,” the report said, noting the “writ of the government ran only superficially in the Kashmir valley” and Islamic groups could “mobilise the people in highly emotionally charged demonstrations and riots.”

The All India Christian Council called upon the police to drop all charges against Mr. Khanna and to “follow the law, and not allow themselves to be coerced by mobs.”

They also urged the federal government to intervene and “show its commitment to secularism in all parts of the country by acting with alacrity.”

At the same time, “in a hostile environment such as the Kashmir valley, Christian priests, pastors, NGOs and religious workers must tread cautiously les they infringe unwritten rules and cross invisible lines in social interaction.”