By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– A Bible teacher has returned to his native India after being deported from the island nation of Maldives for having a Bible in his house, Christians with close knowledge about the situation said.
Shijo Kokkattu, a 30-year-old Catholic, was deported last week following two weeks of detention, BosNewsLife monitored Saturday, October 22.
The teacher at Raafainu School in Maldives’ administrative division of Raa Atoll was detained in late September after police found a Bible and rosary in his house during a raid, Christians said.
While Kokkattu was relieved about his release, he reportedly expressed concerns in statements about other “innocent detainees” who are allegedly kept in police custody “on flimsy grounds or fabricated charges.”
He said he was especially concerned about another Indian teacher identified only as Pradeep who he said “had been kept in custody on fabricated charges of ill treatment of students.”
The deportation of Kokkattu didn’t came as a surprise for Christian rights activists.
The Maldives, a popular destination for Western tourists southwest of India, requires all citizens to be Muslim. “It is against the law to import Christian teaching materials and foreigners who visit the country are immediately deported if Christian materials are found in their luggage,” said Open Doors, which investigates the plight of reportedly persecuted Christians. “Churches are forbidden,” it added.
Since 2008, a constitutional amendment also denies non-Muslims the right to obtain Maldivian citizenship. “In 1998, all known Christian foreigners who were suspected of missionary work were expelled,” Open Doors said. “Foreigners are currently allowed to practice their religion in private as long as they do not gather for Christian activity or try to witness.”
Being one of “the least evangelized countries on earth”, there are only a handful of indigenous believers in Maldives, the group explained. “These Christians practice their faith individually and in extreme secrecy for fear of being discovered.”
Under Maldives regulations they could face sentences that could include uo to five years imprisonment or house arrest.
An influential group representing India’s minority Christians also expressed concerns about the situation. “The lack of justice and the degree of religious intolerance” on the islands “are reflected by the actions of the Maldives government,” said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).
“This is the worst form of religious persecution. The Indian government should demand an apology for the shabby treatment inflicted on one of its citizens.”
India’s government had no comment, but Indian diplomats reportedly pressured authorities to release the teacher.
The Maldives government has defended its actions, saying it wants to defend Islam as a state religion among the country’s 300,000-population.
Last year however, Maldivian authorities rescued another Christian teacher from India when Muslim parents threatened to throw her into the sea for “preaching Christianity” to their children after she reportedly drew a compass in class which allegedly resembled a cross.