U.S. pastor stranded in India awaiting hearing
Bryan Nerren, 58, was traveling to Sikkim state in northeastern India with two other U.S. pastors on Oct. 5 when they were detained at the Bagdogra airport, the closest airport to Sikkim. While the other two pastors were let go, Nerren was arrested when authorities alleged that he had violated the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and the Customs Act by not declaring the cash that he was carrying for his trip and for conferences in India and Nepal.
"They showed me an email from the Delhi office directing them to detain and arrest me for breaking the law," Nerren told Morning Star News. "I told them repeatedly that no one has told me that I need to declare this money. Not even the customs people [in Delhi] who interrogated us.
"I also told them that so far I have not stepped out of the airport onto Indian soil, and that I can go back to Delhi, fill in the necessary forms and come back to Bagdogra, or I can fill the forms right here, but they did not listen," Nerren told Morning Star. "They did not even deport me, but arrested me."
Nerren, pastor of International House of Prayer Ministries in Shelbyville, Tenn., was scheduled to visit Sikkim for four days and then go to Nepal for another nine days. Following his release on bail Oct. 11, he is awaiting trial in Siliguri, a border city in the state of West Bengal, India. The Siliguri Civil and Criminal Court imposed a travel ban on him and confiscated his passport and travel money Oct. 6.
After his arrest, he was not allowed to meet with anyone, including personnel from the U.S. embassy, he said. The two other pastors were the ones who informed his family in the U.S. that he had been arrested and jailed.
"I suffer from sleep apnea and use a C-PAP machine to sleep, without which I can even suffocate and die during my sleep," he said. "When I told the police officers about my condition and that I need the machine, they took me from one police station to the other so that my machine could be plugged in, but it was not possible. So they took me to the emergency room of the Medical Doctor's Training Hospital, where finally I could use the machine."
He faced some ill treatment at the small hospital, he said.
"When the doctor learned that I was a Christian, he spit on the ground and only then took a look at me," Nerren said.
Nerren's next court date is Dec. 12, he said. His attorney has filed an application to the Customs department for the release of his passport and money, said Nerren, staying with friends at an undisclosed location.
The American Center for Law and Justice is among those advocating for Nerren's release.
India ranked 10th on persecution watchdog Open Doors' 2019 World Watch List of the most difficult places for Christians to live.