No bail for priests accused of rape in Kerala

Two of four accused priests say they have been falsely implicated in the case of sexually exploiting a woman parishioner

Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Tuesday declined to grant relief to two of the four Orthodox priests accused of rape, after they had moved for anticipatory bail.

The court set the next hearing for Monday.

The two priests, Abraham Varghese and Job Mathew, of the Kottayam-headquartered Malankara Orthodox Church, asked that the court prevent their arrest as they had been falsely implicated in the case of sexually exploiting a woman parishioner.

However the prosecution took a very strong stand that, under no circumstances, should anticipatory bail be given.

Counsel for the two priests raised the request that the arrest should be prevented till the court takes up the bail plea, but the court did not take it up.

Along with the two who approached the court, two other priests — Jayce George and Johnson Mathew — have all been charged by the Kerala Police’s Crime Branch, probing the case based on the allegations made by the victim’s husband, who belongs to the same church, that his wife was sexually exploited by five priests over the past one decade.

One priest was left out by police with a senior officer saying the woman had only named four priests in her complaint.

On Monday, the Crime Branch, after a preliminary probe, decided to charge four of the five priests and Tuesday they filed the charge sheet of rape and other crimes before the Thiruvalla magistrate court.

Inspector General of Police S. Sreejith, who leads the probe team, arrived at the headquarters of the Church at Kottayam and held a closed-door meeting with its Supreme Head Baselios Marthoma Paulose II.

Interacting with the media after the meeting, Sreejith said that the supreme head has promised to cooperate with the probe and will be ready to help in its completion.

Last Friday, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra ordered a Crime Branch probe into this case on the allegations made by the victim’s husband.

An online portal first reported the story last week, following which tremendous pressure from several quarters, especially social media users, mounted on the Church, which then announced an internal probe.

The husband has said one of the priests who first exploited his wife was blackmailing her. When she sought help from another priest, he too threatened her and shared her contact with another fellow priest and in the end, she came under the duress from at least five priests.

The Kerala Police started its probe after the National Commission for Women took suo motu cognisance of the case and wrote to Behra, directing him to investigate the matter.

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