A group of Christians were beaten by police in southern India after being accused of forcing people to convert to Christianity, according to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Nine pastors, including one man with physical disabilities were violently assaulted by authorities on the 21st February in the town of Sathankulam, Tamil Nadu State.
Three days earlier, Pastor Shajin from Devasabai Church led a team of eight pastors from surrounding villages in a four-day mission trip to distribute Christian literature.
The men were stopped by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Ponniah, who seized their tracts and accused them of converting people by force, before alerting local authorities.
Pastor Barnabas was severely beaten by police with a bamboo baton and sustained injuries to his back and legs, according to CSW.
Following the incident, Ponniah accompanied by members of a local Hindu 'Munani' (nationalist) group, registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the nine Christians for attempting to convert him by force.
The Christians were later released following intervention by local human rights activists.
Pastor Barnabas is currently receiving treatment in a private hospital.
Persecution towards Christians has intensified in the Hindu majority country in recent years. Several states there have adopted anti-conversion laws in an attempt to make conversions to Christianity more difficult.
Local monitoring groups have raised concerns over police brutality experienced by religious minorities in India as officers are often unwilling to carry out impartial investigations, which has aided Hindu militant groups in making false accusations against Christians.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "The failure of the police to conduct their duties in an impartial manner makes them complicit in ongoing violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Had it not been for the timely intervention of local monitoring groups who assisted in the release of these nine Christians, they would have likely been held in prison for much longer and subjected to further assault.
"We urge the government of India to investigate and prosecute misconduct by law enforcement, which is eroding the trust of religious minorities in the police who are meant to protect them. Tackling India's pervasive atmosphere of impunity surrounding human rights violations against religious minorities is vital if India is to fulfil its duty to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their religion or creed."
According to research from religious freedom charity Open Doors, 1,445 physical attacks and death threats were reported against Christians in the past year in India.
India is ranked number 10 on the charity's 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most extreme oppression for their faith.