International Christian Concern (ICC) learned that Pastor Bryan Nerren, a Christian pastor from Tennessee, has been arrested and detained in India after being accused of violating the country’s Foreign Exchange Management Act.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Pastor Nerren and two other pastors from Tennessee arrived in India on October 5 to attend two conferences in India and Nepal. The ACLJ reported that Pastor Nerren was then targeted and arrested by Indian customs agents after he told them he was a Christian.
After the three pastors arrived in New Delhi, Pastor Nerren was detained by customs agents while proceeding through the domestic security check for a flight to Bagdogra.
According to the ACLJ, the pastor was carrying funds to cover the expenses for the two conferences as well as the two-week trip for himself and the other pastors. Customs agents questioned Pastor Nerren about the funds and their usage for about an hour. According to reports, Pastor Nerren has been traveling to India and Nepal for the past 17 years to train people to become Sunday school teachers.
According to the ACLJ, customs agents specifically asked Pastor Nerren if he was a Christian and if the funds would be used to support Christian causes. After fully explaining what the funds were to be used for, the customs agents told Pastor Nerren he was free to go. However, when Pastor Nerren arrived in Bagdogra, he was arrested and transported to Siliguri where he was incarcerated for six days and denied any visitors, including those from the US Consulate.
Pastor Nerren was able to secure bail after six days in jail. However, the judge has retained Pastor Nerren’s passport and ordered a travel ban. A hearing regarding Pastor Nerren’s case was scheduled for October 22, but it did not take place. Another court date has been set for Pastor Nerren’s case on December 12. According to the ACLJ, Pastor Nerren is effectively trapped in Siliguri.
Religious intolerance and instances of persecution have steadily escalated in India since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a political party founded on Hindu nationalist ideology, took power in 2014. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), 147 instances of religiously motivated violence against Christians were documented in 2014. In 2018, after four years of BJP rule, EFI documented 325 instances of religiously motivated violence against Christians.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said:
“We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned by the arrest and detention of Pastor Nerren. We are most concerned by reports that Pastor Nerren was targeted by Indian customs officials after he told them he is a Christian. Article 25 of India’s own constitution protects religious freedom for all of the country’s citizens. In addition, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also protects religious freedom. However, it seems these protections are being denied to Pastor Nerren due to his identity as a Christian.”