SC Halts Criminal Proceedings Against SHUATS Vice-Chancellor in Alleged Conversion Cases

SC Halts Criminal Proceedings Against SHUATS Vice-Chancellor in Alleged Conversion Cases

The Supreme Court on Thursday halted criminal proceedings in Uttar Pradesh concerning five cases against the vice-chancellor of Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS) and others. These cases involve allegations of illegal conversion of Hindus to Christianity.

The Supreme Court, which has been granting protection from arrest and bail to the accused, declined the Uttar Pradesh government's request to allow the trial court proceedings to continue.

"There should not be further proceedings in connection with the FIRs in the trial court in the case," a bench comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said in its order.

The bench noted the submission from a group of lawyers, including senior advocate Siddharth Dave, representing SHUATS Vice-Chancellor Rajendra Bihari Lal. They argued that the proceedings in the trial court should be stayed, as all the accused would have to appear in response to summons that would be issued following fresh chargesheets filed by the state police in these cases.

Senior lawyer Mukta Gupta, representing one of the accused, pointed out that the state police had not recorded the testimony of any of the alleged victims who were claimed to have been lured into Christianity.

Earlier, the bench had scheduled a final hearing for the nine petitions seeking either the quashing or the consolidation of five FIRs lodged against the SHUATS Vice-Chancellor and others concerning alleged illegal religious conversions.

The cases against Mr. Lal involve charges under sections 307 (attempt to murder), 504 (intentional insult with an aim to provoke breach of peace), and 386 (extortion) of the Indian Penal Code. He has also been charged under specific provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021. The Supreme Court has been issuing orders periodically to protect the accused from arrest in connection with the FIRs filed in Fatehpur.

The Uttar Pradesh Police had previously informed the court that Mr. Lal and the other accused are considered the "main perpetrators" of a mass religious conversion program, which allegedly received funding from about 20 countries.

The police have alleged that Mr. Lal, along with the other accused, is a "notorious criminal" involved in 38 cases of various kinds, including cheating and murder, registered across Uttar Pradesh over the past two decades. The police further claimed that approximately 90 Hindus gathered at the Evangelical Church of India in Hariharganj, Fatehpur, to convert to Christianity and were subjected to "undue influence, coercion, and lured through fraud and the promise of easy money."

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