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New  Delhi — An Indian court has refused pre-arrest bail to three church priests in a rape case filed by a woman in southern India.

Fearing arrests, the three approached the Kerala state High Court in the city of Kochi after the state police early this month began investigating a complaint by the woman that they sexually exploited her over years.

Justice R. Vijayaraghavan on Wednesday said he could not ignore the police's concern that the priests would try to tamper with the evidence and influence witnesses during the investigation, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

They are likely to be arrested soon. The priests deny the rape accusation against them.

There was no immediate comment by their Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, headquartered in Kottayam in Kerala state.

AP