A Christian teenager in northern India was jailed for 12 days after anti-Hindu comments appeared on a fake Facebook account in his name, sources said.
Sandeep Kumar, 18, christened Karan Anthony, was released on bail 12 days after being arrested on Aug. 23 and charged with posting anti-Hindu comments on Facebook in Uttar Pradesh state. The University of Allahabad student of agricultural sciences was arrested when members of the Hindu extremist Rudra Sena in his home area of Kasganj District filed a complaint with police.
"I did not make any posts on Facebook," Anthony told Morning Star News. "It was my good friend who falsely framed me by joining hands with Rudra Sena activists."
He said he has not used Facebook in months.
"Whenever I posted something about Jesus, my friend Sathin and other classmates started sending abusive comments," he said. "They were expressing hatred in vulgar language, and I did not like it. I deactivated Facebook immediately and never logged in after that incident."
The chief complainant, Sathin Gaur, was a former classmate and friend of Anthony, the Christian's father, pastor Shriniwas Gautam, told Morning Star News.
Kasganj District police registered a First Information Report (FIR) charging Anthony with "promoting enmity between classes" (section 153A of the Indian Penal Code), punishable by three years of prison and/or a fine, and "publishing or transmitting obscene material" (Section 67 of the Information Technology Act), punishable by imprisonment of up to three years and/or a fine of 500,000 rupees (US$7,725).
He was also charged with accessing a computer without the permission of the owner and doing so dishonestly or fraudulently (Section 66 of the Information Technology Act), punishable by up to three years and/or a fine of up to 500,000 rupees (US$7,725).
Attorney Suresh Sahu, who represented Anthony before the district's Criminal Magistrate Court, said police are continuing to investigate.
Anthony said he has long been a target of his Hindu friends because they know his father is a pastor.
"Before this Facebook row, they got me into trouble twice," he said. "They beat me severely, alleging, 'You are Christian, you are from low caste.'"
He had lost contact with his old high school friends after beginning university, he said. While in police custody, he said, he discovered a fake Facebook account had been set up with his name and photo.
"Somebody was using this account to post abusive, anti-Hindu content - I told the police it is not me," Anthony said. "I was not at all aware about the fake Facebook account. I was only focusing on my studies, and we have worship services on the campus also every morning and evening, so I was spending most of my time with Christian friends here and never felt the need to open a social media account."
The FIR lists the complainants as members of Hindu extremist groups Rudra Sena and Hindu Yuva Vahini, along with Hindu nationalist student political party presidents and vice-presidents, Pastor Gautam told Morning Star News. He added, "Karan Anthony for them is a Christian boy from lower castes, and now that he secured admission in an esteemed university, they are not happy with it."
Gaur signed the FIR along with Vaibhav Kumar, vice president of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (Vajpayee Nagar); Amar Dubey, Patiali vice president of the Rudra Sena; Vikas Pratap Singh, Patiali vice president of the Hindu Yuva Vahini; Amar Chauhan, president of the Rudra Sena in Patiali; Jacky Yadav, president of the Student Union in Patiali; and Rudra Sena members Ramendra Mishra, Rishab Shakya and Rohit Solanki.
The complainants badgered his mother into calling him back to his home village in Kasganj District, he said, where police took him into custody. He did not receive anything to eat the first two days, Anthony said.
"I knelt down and prayed a day after I was presented before the court," he said. "When I was in jail, every day I was spending time in prayer; the other prisoners did not understand what was going on, they asked me many questions like, 'What is this you are doing, why are you knelt, what are you murmuring?' It was an opportunity the Lord had given me to share the gospel with them."
The other inmates were happy to hear about Christ, he said, and they discussed Jesus daily.
"I felt so light, like all my burdens vanished at once," he said. "I even invited them to our church in Patiali town, Kasganj."
After 12 days in jail, he was weak and ill from malaria and typhoid, he said.
"I am praying every day for Sathin and the other complainants," Anthony told Morning Star News. "I have forgiven them. I want Sathin to recognize the Lord's love. Through all these hardships, the Lord is with me, and I want them to see this."
Local media have published false reports that his father and members of his family are guilty of forcible conversion, he added.
"Nobody tried to find out the truth," he said.
His father said he also has faced persecution, in his case for leading worship services in Kasganj villages.
"I too was beaten and arrested," Pastor Gautam said in tears. "They even stripped my wife and insulted her."
Anthony's brother, Kuldeep Kumar, said Anthony is a brilliant student and very friendly with all people.
"He shares with his friends about Jesus and His second coming," Kumar told Morning Star News. "He boldly shares his testimony. He will never abuse or pass any hurtful statements, neither on social media nor directly. He is a very good friend and brother."
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.