NEW DELHI, November 29, 2019 (Morning Star News) – After spending 11 years behind bars for a murder they did not commit, five Christians in eastern India were finally ordered to be freed on Tuesday (Nov. 26), sources said.
The Supreme Court of India issued a decision ordering bail for the five Christians from Odisha (formerly Orissa) state falsely accused of killing Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, whose death on Aug. 23, 2008 in Kandhamal District touched off anti-Christian attacks that killed 120 people, destroyed nearly 6,000 homes and displaced 55,000 Christians.
The five Christians remained in jail at this writing. One of the five Christians granted bail this week is reportedly mentally challenged. Because the Supreme Court issued the release on bail, the five Christians and two others freed earlier this year do not have to return unless the high court itself so orders.
“I am really happy that all of them are granted bail,” attorney Anupradha Singh, who represented the Christians, told Morning Star News. “The Honorable Judges granted the bail on the grounds that they have spent over 10 years in jail. Their behavior in the jail was also good, and the same was noted.”
Journalist Anto Akkara, who has been anchoring an online signature campaign at www.release7innocents.com since March 2016, was also elated.
“This is a big victory for truth and justice for Kandhamal,” Akkara, author of “Who Killed Swami Laxmamananda?” told Morning Star News. “I am thrilled.”
Buddhadev Nayak, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Durjo Sunamajhi, Sanatan Badamajhi and Munda Badamajhi were convicted in 2008. They were arrested by December 2008 along with Gornath Chalanseth and Bijaya Sanaseth, who were also convicted but managed to obtain bail in May and July respectively.
Christian leaders and activists have long maintained that the seven Christians were framed and falsely accused, and that the charge against the mentally challenged Badamajhi typified the absurdity of the charges.
“Considering the fact that the accused-appellant(s) had already undergone 10 years of their sentence as is the case of other accused directed to be released on bail, and taking an overall view of the matter, we are of the opinion that the above-named accused- appellant(s) should also be released on bail on such conditions as may be imposed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Phulbani in S.T. No. 16/18 of 2013-2009,” Supreme Court Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari wrote in their ruling.
The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), said the legal fight does not end with the granting of bail to the seven accused Christians.
“This is just the first step,” Lal told Morning Star News. “The case still has to be fought at the High Court in Odisha.”
At the same time, Lal said he was glad that the Christians will be able to celebrate Christmas with their families.
“This is like a Christmas gift for them,” he said. “We are very grateful to the Human Rights Law Network, to the Bhubaneswar Cuttack Archdiocese, to [the United Christian Forum’s] John Dayal, ADF [legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom] and to everyone who contributed to securing this first step to their freedom. Special mention should be made of journalist Anto Akkara, who continued to create awareness about this case.”
Attorney Anupradha Singh echoed the sentiment that the quest for final justice remains.
“This is a small success because the case is still pending at the High Court,” she told Morning Star News. “We will diligently fight the matter in the High Court.”
The Reb. Dibya Paricha, a Catholic priest and an attorney based in Odisha state who has coordinated legal matters for the seven Christians, said he was hopeful that they will win acquittal from the High Court.
“They should not have been detained for so many years,” Paricha told Morning Star News. “Politics should not have been involved but, unfortunately, it was. We must understand that people’s lives and liberty are more important. I know personally that they are innocent.”
Attorney Bibhu Dutta Das, who has played an active role in legal matters following the anti-Christian violence in 2007 and 2008, said the accusations lack substance.
SOURCE: Christian Headlines