Odisha: Christians to appeal sentence in Swami murder

October 17, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

New Delhi, October 16, 2013: The 2008 killings touched off a wave of violence, much of it directed at Christians.

2008 killingsA Church official in New Delhi said the seven Christians, who were awarded life sentence for the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in 2008 in Orissa, are innocent and will move higher court.

“The seven Christians are innocent,” said Father Charles Irudayam, executive secretary of the Office for Justice, Peace and Development of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

“The ruling is manifestly wrong and unjust. We call for the release of the seven innocent, sentenced without evidence,” he said in a statement to the Catholic news service Agenzia Fides.

An eighth defendant, Pulari Rama Rao, a leader in India’s communist Naxalite movement, also was sentenced to life in prison.

The eight were among 14 the government suspected of carrying out the August 2008 murder of Hindu leader Saraswati and four others in Orissa state.

The murder triggered wide-spread anti-Christian violence in the state after Hindu fanatic blamed Christians for the criminal act. However, few days after the event, Maoists active in the area claimed responsibility.

One of the 14 suspects, not among the eight sentenced Oct. 3, is in custody, and the remaining five remain at large, according to the Times of India.

Orissa is among the states along India’s eastern flank, the heartland of the communist Naxalite movement, which has attracted many Christians in India’s lower castes.

The eight defendants, tired in a district court in the rural town of Phulbani, were convicted Sept. 30 ofmurder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly and rioting. Two also were found guilty of violating weapons laws.

Aside from Rao, the seven others who were convicted are Christian and killed Saraswati because he was converting Christians to Hinduism, prosecution lawyer Bhagaban Mohanty told the Indo-Asian News Service after the verdict.

“The judge convicted them purely on the basis of circumstantial evidence and the deposition of witnesses,” the news service quoted Mohanty as saying.

A lawyer for the seven told the Times of India “we will certainly appeal” the convictions and sentences to the Orissa high court.

“There was no evidence against my clients and I would advise them to move Orissa high court,” the Times quoted attorney Bijay Mishra as saying.

Christian advocates said the convictions are consistent with a larger pattern of pressure upon Christians.

– charismanews

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