2016-03-15 14:59:00

Cardinal Gracias launches revamped website for Kandhamal's 'innocents'

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai and president of Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), on March 14 launched the revamped website - www.release7innocents.com - for petitioning the release of seven innocent Christians of remote Kandhamal district in Odisha state of India.

The seven innocent Christians - six of them illiterates - have been languishing in jail since late 2008 after their arrest on trumped up charge of the mysterious murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on August 23, 2008 that was touted as a Christian conspiracy.

Following the Hindu leader's murder, nearly 100 Christians had been killed and 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses plundered and torched in unabated violence that continued for weeks. Hindu masses - most of them illiterate - had been incited to take revenge on the Christians after the slain Swami's body was paraded across Kandhamal for two days along zigzag routes.

"Everyone should speak up for these people," said Cardinal Gracias, one of the eight advisors of Pope Francis, while signing the petition for the release of the innocents, at his office in Mumbai where he is recuperating after a surgery in the US.

The trial court had convicted the seven accused - Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Gornath Chalanseth, Durjo Sunamajhi, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Budhadeb Nayak, Munda Badamaji and Sanatan Badamajhi - and sentenced them to life imprisonment on October 3, 2013.

"The shocking conviction is based on a fabricated Christian conspiracy theory amid hardly any credible evidence being brought before the court", pointed out  journalist Anto Akkara who is anchoring the campaign for the release of the seven innocent Christian convicts.

The journalist author has made 23 trips to Kandhamal during last eight years and  brought out four investigative books on Kandhamal - two each from secular human rights perspective and two each from Christian faith perspective.

In a press statement, Akkara further pointed out that two top police officials - who had relied upon the same conspiracy theory to ensure the conviction of the innocent Christians - had testified in June 2015 before the Kandhamal Inquiry Commission headed by retired High Court Judge A S Naidu that the Christian conspiracy allegations were false.

Yet, Akkara noted, the hearing on the appeal of the innocent convicts has been repeatedly postponed by the Odisha High Court.

"I urge the Chief Justice of India and other constitutional authorities to end the travesty of justice and release the seven innocents.." says the petition which can be easily signed by clicking on 'lend your voice' at the website www.release7innocents.com.

This takes one to a new page 'sign the petition'. When it is clicked, email message demanding the release of the 7 innocents will be sent to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, the President of India and the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of India simultaneously.

While veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, in his 90's, inaugurated the website on March 3 at the Constitution Club in New Delhi in the presence of the illiterate wives of the
innocent convicts and a host of dignitaries, Swami Agnivesh, internationally known social activist and Hindu reformist leader, launched the signature campaign on the occasion.

The website has seven pages with the 'home page' summing up the travesty of justice while second page illustrates how the winding funeral procession of the slain Swami - carried out across Kandhamal for two days - triggered the mayhem and bloodshed. The third page on the site lists landmarks in the Swami's murder trial along with a grim table of the police action and court verdicts.

The fourth page titled '7 Innocents' profiles each of the seven convicts and questions the credibility of the 'evidences' brought against them. The fifth page  reproduces the full text of both the concocted Beticola church resolution - that was hailed as proof for the Christian conspiracy by the trial court - and the shocking 37-page court verdict itself.

While the sixth chapter lists three videos, the final chapter provides a brief about the two secular books 'Kandhamal - a blot on Indian Secularism' and 'Kandhamal craves for Justice' - with web some of the links to media reports hailing it. (Anto Akkara)


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