A collective of eight independent church organisations has asked Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to intervene and stall the transfer orders issued to five nuns who had protested against rape-accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal, The Indian Express reported on Sunday.

“The rape survivor [and] the other five nuns who supported her in the case against Bishop Franco Mulakkal are facing imminent threat of being separated [and] sent away from Kerala by the Missionaries of Jesus,” Save our Sisters wrote in a letter to Vijayan, according to ANI. “We urge government to ensure their lives are not endangered by enforcing transfer order.”

The collective urged the state government to “initiate immediate action” to stall the orders asking the nuns to move out of their present convent, “where government is giving them protection till trial is completed”.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Church ordered four nuns – Alphy Pallasseril, Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil, Josephine Villoonnickal and Ancitta Urumbil – to leave the Kuravilangad convent and return to the convents that had been assigned to them between March and May. The following week, the fifth nun – Neena Rose Edathil – was also asked to report to the Missionaries of Jesus congregation’s Jalandhar convent.

In a subsequent letter to Vijayan, the four nuns sought his help. They claimed that the orders were part of an attempt to “sabotage the case” and said the church’s move was a form of mental harassment.

The case

The police filed charges against Mulakkal in June after a nun accused him of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 at a convent in Kottayam. He was arrested on September 21 after three days of questioning. On October 15, the Kerala High Court granted him conditional bail, and he was released the following day. Mulakkal, who returned to Jalandhar on October 17, has denied all charges.

An internal investigation by the Missionaries of Jesus in September found Mulakkal to be innocent. The organisation has also attempted to malign the complainant repeatedly, once alleging that she was in a relationship with a taxi driver.

In November, reports claimed that the congregation had told the Kerala Police that they did not have the “financial capacity” to protect the accuser.