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Orissa Christians convicted in 2008 murder of Hindu leader; bishops’ conference decries verdict

Catholic World News - October 03, 2013

Seven Christians in Odisha, the eastern Indian state formerly known as Orissa, have been convicted on charges of murdering Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati in August 2008.

The conviction came after a bizarre and prolonged trial, and in spite of repeated claims by Maoist rebels that they were responsible for the murder. Prosecutors introduced no substantial evidence against the accused Christians.

Saraswati’s death-- which was immediately attributed to Christians by Hindu militants-- led to a massive anti-Christian pogrom that led over 50,000 to flee their homes.

Church leaders in India quickly denounced the court’s decision. "We will appeal to the High Court against the unfair and unacceptable verdict,” said Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, the retired leader of the Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar archdiocese. Sajan George, the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told AsiaNews that the guilty verdict was “a mockery, the sad demonstration of how the Indian judicial system works."

“We want to reiterate that the seven Christians are innocent,” said Father Charles Irudayam, an official of the Indian bishops’ conference, according to the Fides news agency.

“The same court that sentenced them, the day after the ruling, sentenced a Maoist leader for the crime of which the Christians are accused: this exonerates them permanently,” he added. “The ruling is manifestly wrong and unjust. We call for the release of the seven innocent, sentenced without evidence”

The seven Christians and the Maoist have been sentenced to life imprisonment, The Hindu reported.

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