Five Christian men in India who were sentenced to life imprisonment, have been discharged and acquitted after spending 11 years behind bars for a murder they did not commit,
In 2008, the group of men were accused of killing a prominent Hindu priest, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, in the Kandhamal District. Hindu nationalists dragged the men into the police station demanding justice, despite Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda claiming responsibility for the murder.
Approximately 160 Christians were killed in the aftermath of the attack, based on lies from Hindu nationalists perpetuated of a “Christian conspiracy” in the district. Six thousand homes were also destroyed.
Now, the innocent men have finally been acquitted. At the end of November, the Supreme Court of India issued a landmark decision granting bail to the five Christians from Odisha (formerly Orissa) after it was proved they had nothing to do with the murder.
“Considering the fact that the accused—appellant(s) had already undergone 10 years of their sentence as is the case of other accused directly 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…” wrote Supreme Court Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari.
“I am really happy that all of them are granted bail,” an attorney representing the group, Anupradha Singh, 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.”
“This is a big victory for truth and justice for Kandhamal,” said journalist Anto Akkara, who worked hard for the captives’ release. “I am thrilled.”
Though the men will still have to fight their case in the High Court in Odisha, they remain hopeful.
“This is like a Christmas gift for them,” said The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. “We are very grateful…to everyone who contributed to securing this first step to their freedom …”
Advocates fighting on behalf of the men believe that politics became too embedded in the men’s case.
“They should not have been detained for so many years,” said Rev. Dibya Paricha, a Catholic priest and attorney. “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.”
Believers in India—number 10 on the 2019 World Watch List of most dangerous countries to be a Christian—are often shunned, unjustly arrested, attacked—even killed—because they choose to follow Jesus and not Hinduism or the local religion. Our Indian family needs the prayers of the global church to stand strong in the midst of persecution—and to remain a light for Christ in the world’s second-most populated country.