SC refuses to stay anticipatory bail granted to archbishop, sister in conversion case

The Supreme Court Monday refused to stay the anticipatory bail granted by the Madhya Pradesh High Court to an archbishop and a sister accused of forcing Hindu children to convert to Christianity at an orphanage.

The top court, however, issued notices to Archbishop Jerald Alameda, 77, and sister Lily Joseph on separate appeals by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the Madhya Pradesh government.

“Issue notice…We cannot stay the anticipatory bail and we cannot stay the observations of the high court also,” a bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said.

The bench listed the pleas of the NCPCR and the state government for hearing after two weeks.

While granting anticipatory bail to the accused, the high court had said the complaint of conversion can be registered only by a person who is related by blood, marriage or adoption, guardianship or custodianship and no one else.

The high court had also said in the absence of a complaint by the aggrieved party, the police do not have jurisdiction to investigate an offence under the MP Freedom of Religion Act, 2021.

Archbishop Jerald Alameda and Lily Joseph were arrested after NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo had visited the Asha Kiran Institute in Katni district.

The NCPCR head had filed a complaint about alleged conversion after a Bible was claimed to have been found with students.

A single judge bench of the high court had on June 19 said, “Police officer shall not inquire or investigate a complaint under Section 3 of MP Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 unless the complaint is written by a person aggrieved, who has been converted or attempt has been made for his conversion, or by the person who are parents or siblings, or with leave of the Court by any person who is related by blood, marriage or adoption, guardianship or custodianship, as may be applicable.”

The high court had said in the present case, the complaint was lodged by an individual who conducted an inspection, and “no complaint has been made by the person converted or the person aggrieved or against whom an attempt was made for conversion or by their relatives or blood relatives”.

The high court, while granting pre-arrest bail, had also directed Asha Kiran Institute to ensure that religious education shall not be provided to orphans or children admitted there.

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