In what has come as temporary relief for two Kerala Orthodox church priests accused of raping a woman from Thiruvalla, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that they cannot be arrested for a day.
The apex court said this while postponing the hearing of the anticipatory bail pleas filed by Fr Abraham Varghese and Fr Jaise K George from the Malankara Orthodox Church, who have been charged with rape and molestation. The SC will now take up the plea on Thursday and restrained the police from arresting the two accused priests till their anticipatory bail pleas are taken up by the court.
While Fr Abraham Varghese approached the SC with the plea on Saturday, Fr Jaise filed a petition seeking anticipatory bail on Monday morning. Although Fr Abraham's lawyer had sought for an urgent hearing on Monday, the SC bench had declined it.
Police have reportedly seized the passport of Fr Abraham Varghese to prevent him from fleeing the country.
After the state crime branch booked four priests of the Orthodox church for allegedly raping and molesting a woman from Thiruvalla, all the accused priests had gone into hiding. Last week, however, after the Kerala HC refused to grant anticipatory bail, second accused Fr Job Mathew surrendered to the police. Two days after this, the team arrested third accused Fr Johnson Mathew as well.
It is alleged that Fr Abraham Varghese had been sexually abusing the woman since she was 16. The woman, in her statement to the Crime Branch, had said that she was in a relationship with him in 1999. At that time, she was 16 years old. He went on to become a priest but forced her to continue the relationship, even after they both married other individuals.
Prior to the baptism of her baby, the woman had confessed to Fr Job Mathew about this, who in turn went on to blackmail and abuse her. According to the survivor's statement, Fr Johnson Mathew sent her sexually coloured messages on WhatsApp and sexually assaulted her in a car. He also allegedly morphed the survivor's face onto a nude photograph of another woman and threatened to circulate it on the internet. According to her statement, Fr Johnson Mathew was her senior in college and got in touch with her on WhatsApp.
While the woman decided to disclose everything to Fr Jaise K George- who is a counsellor - he allegedly threatened to expose her past and allegedly sexually abused her. The incident came to light in June, when an audio clip of the woman's husband went viral on social media. In the audio clip, the woman's husband described how the priests had sexually abused his wife. Although the husband had approached the church with a complaint in May, the accused priests were sent on leave and no police complaint was filed.
However, after the audio clip circulated, the police came under tremendous pressure, as a result of which, the crime branch booked four priests.