Granting bail to two persons booked under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, the Allahabad High Court said only those related to the person who has converted, such as parents, spouse, relatives, etc., or the converted person himself can lodge complaints in such cases. The court also observed that distributing the Holy Bible and imparting good teachings won’t amount to “allurement” under the Act.
The Bench of Justice Shamim Ahmad made the observations while granting bail to Jose Papachen and Sheeja, both followers of Christianity, who were arrested on a complaint by a BJP district secretary (Zila Mantri) inAmbedkar Nagar. The U.P. Police had slapped Sections 3 and 5 (1) of the anti-conversion law, and Section 3(1) of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on the duo.
While pronouncing the bail order, the court acknowledged that the complainant is neither the “aggrieved person, his/her parent, brother, sister or any other person, who is related to him/her by blood, marriage or adoption”, as provided under Section 4 of the U.P. anti-conversion law. “…. thus the complainant is not competent to lodge the present F.I.R.,” the court said.
The court noted that the appellants had been in jail since January 2023 and by now had “done a substantial period of detention”. “Also, considering the larger mandate of the Article 21 of the Constitution of India and the law laid down by the Supreme Court in multiple cases, this Court is of the view that the trial court has failed to appreciate the material available on record. The impugned order passed by the trial court is liable to be set aside,” the court said.
The lower court in Ambedkar Nagar had rejected the bail of the accused earlier in March.
Justice Shamim Ahmad also accepted the argument of the counsel for the appellants that “providing good teachings, distributing Holy Bible books, encouraging children to get education, organizing assembly of villagers, performing Bhandara [distributing food free of charge] and instructing the villagers not to enter into altercation or take liquor” do not amount to allurement.
The HC also directed the trial court to expedite trial of the case, within a period of one year, by following the provisions of Section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), strictly without granting any unnecessary adjournments to the parties, in case there is no other legal impediment.
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