After spending 11 years in prison, five Christians were acquitted after it was discovered that they are innocent on the killing of a Hindu prominent leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. The murder was revenged by his follower claiming the lives of some 160 believers and resulted in the destruction of 6,000 homes.
The five Christian men from Odisha (formerly Orissa) were been releases by the Supreme Court of India at the end of November. Anupradha Singh, the attorney representing the four Christians said “I am really happy that all of them are granted bail.”
According to 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,” added Journalist Anto Akkara, who has been campaigning relentlessly for the men to be released. “I am thrilled.”
Acknowledging the decade spent behind bars, the Supreme Court ordered that the men be released pending no further 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.
The case, however, is not over — it must now be fought at the High Court in Odisha.
Still, for the men in question, a Christmas spent with their families is all they are thinking about right now. “This is like a Christmas gift for them,” said The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
“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.”
One of the advocators for the group expressed that the opinion is clear; the entire case was built on lies. Noting that they were arrested after the Hindus forcefully turned them over to the police, demanding their arrest.
A Catholic priest who also double as an attorney, Rev. Dibya Paricha said “They should not have been detained for so many years,” “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.” He told Morning Star News.
According to Faithwire, Despite Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda claiming responsibility for the attack, Hindu nationalists continued to push the narrative of a “Christian conspiracy,” likely so they could develop grounds for their brutal revenge attacks.