Five Christians Wrongly Imprisoned for Over 10 Years in India Released on Bail by Country’s Supreme Court

The seven Christians convicted and jailed in 2013 over the killing of a Hindu religious leader. Activists and church leaders say they were wrongfully convicted. (Photo by Anto Akkara)

Five Christians who’ve been imprisoned for over a decade in India for a crime that they and advocates say they didn’t commit were released on bail last week by the country’s Supreme Court. 

The five Christian men were among seven men accused of the 2008 assassination of 84-year-old Hindu monk Swamy Laxmananda Saraswati and four of his associates in the Kandhamal district of India’s eastern Odisha state.

As a result of the revered Hindu leader’s death, Christians in Odisha experienced what rights groups call the most severe outbreak of persecution in the country’s history.

Dozens of Christians were said to have been killed and villages destroyed. Reports suggest that hundreds of Christians were told by lynch mobs to either convert or die. ADF India reports that at least 8,400 houses were burned, 360 churches destroyed and over 56,000 people were displaced by the Odisha violence in 2008.

Shortly after the riots, the seven Christian men were accused by the Hindu community of killing the religious leader as tension rose between the two religious communities. The men were convicted in 2013.

Their names are Gornath Chalenseth, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Budhadeb Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Munda Badamajhi and Sanathan Badamajhi.

Advocates for the accused men say that they were convicted based on a fabricated claim that lacked credible evidence. They were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The men were convicted despite local Maoists reportedly taking responsibility for the murder. Additionally, advocates claim that the seven men were arrested and jailed simply to appease the Hindu community.

Appeals of their convictions have been pending for the last six years.

Chalenseth was released on bail by the India Supreme Court in May. In July, Bijaya Sanaseth was released on bail by the same court. Last Tuesday, the court granted bail to the remaining five.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith